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info@ntabaafrica.com  |   Unique, Authentic, Memorable African Experience

Africa – a journal, a journey

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A friend posted this quote, and it says it all . . .

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

 

Africa – 2023

Africa, a personal dream to see, a personal dream to experience, a personal dream I never expected to check off my bucket list. Never, and I mean never, ever did I think my dream would become a reality. But dreams do come true. Africa happened in August 2022. Joining a group lead by Ntaba Safaris, I found myself in South Africa. The journey was beyond description. I came away changed, in love with the land, the wildlife, the food and in love with the people and their history and traditions. Not sure what I left out, so let’s just say everything. However, everything seems to fall flat with a lack of proper respect or understanding of the experience that I took away.

Please allow me to digress. When some wonderful opportunity comes along, and I am sharing with my dear brother Carl, he will jump with excitement wanting to know every detail. But then I know what is coming. He gets a little quiet and will pose the same question that he has asked me, and I am sure many others numerous times. His question in, “Sharon, if you had to make a choice would you choose tangible or experience.”  I always look at him and say the same answer, “I choose both.”  Tangible may be something I can hold in my hand, experience is something I hold in my mind’s eye and most importantly, in my heart. That, to me dear friends is priceless.

Words paint the picture, taking me where I am, and I ask you to join me on a journey. Words that when closing your eyes, you are there with me, seeing what I see and feeling what I feel.

Ntaba Safaris is taking me to Africa again and you, dear friend, are invited to come along.

Travel Day

It is here! Today is the day! The decisions of what to put in the duffle, what to take out of the duffle and put back in with no overpacking allowed are made. Comfy travel clothes and shoes, passport, and travel itinerary in hand I am ready to go. Looking at the opening doors of the airport I feel like Alice in Wonderland looking down the rabbit hole. Here I go, again!

Long flights make for long days. Do I read, write, watch a movie, or heaven forbid talk with the person next to me? Personally, I want to sleep, it is a long flight and a definite time change upon arrival. I am thinking about my previous trip and wondering how this journey and experience will differ, what lies ahead, so sleep is not on the agenda, yet.

The sun has now set as we travel toward a new day, we are over the Atlantic as hints of color are barely visible brushing the clouds and I am once again amazed at the wonder of air travel that allows us to see our world.
Sleep blinders on and ear plugs in so now the real job of trying to sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, Johannesburg, South Africa. Thankfully sleep comes and as I awake as tiny pockets of city lights shine against the dark land, African land. As we travel to Johannesburg the city lights shine bright with activity as we make our descent. Once my luggage is in hand, I am greeted by a smile that goes from ear to ear, Eric. We greet as old friends as he welcomed ‘Ntaba Sharon’ back to Africa and it was a warm comforting feeling as he escorted me on the walk to the hotel talking as old friends. What a day. I am back in South Africa.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Day One – South Africa

As I awake to sunshine this morning, I had to pinch myself, I am really here, I am really in Africa. I may just be in a hotel, but you can feel the people and the city. The hotel staff offers warm smiles welcoming me to the day ahead as they pour my first coffee.

Behold, here she comes, Jutta my travel companion, who just arrived in Johannesburg from her home in Cape Town. We meet for the first time and decide we will get along famously. Our driver is waiting to take us for a short journey from Johannesburg to Peoria Rovos Rail station to board our train.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

The standard of service is immediately apparent as we are welcomed to Rovos Rail. The station is nestled in a lush green setting of bushes and trees, a beautiful courtyard, a quaint old station furnished with fine looking rich furnishings. The staff looks very smart in their longer styled black jackets and slacks or skirts and hair and make-up done to perfection. Their appearance included a very warm welcoming smile, and more than one glass of champagne was offered. Of course, we arrived shortly before high tea, so yummy and delicious treats soon followed the champagne.

A little bell sounded, and we quieted in anticipation of what may come next. Standing before us was ‘Mr. Rovos,’ Rolan Vos himself greeting us as he started to share his story of Rovos Rail. He is a gentleman’s gentleman, and his personal journey is one to read and know. During his talk, a gentle rain starts to fall in the station courtyard as he reminds us to dress for dinner, and not be texting or talking on our phones while in the dining car. Rovos Rail offers old world grace, charm and service and a break from everyday distractions and it was nice to actually not have service for part of our journey. He invited us to walk through the rail yard with him along with peacocks in tow. We found rail cars and engines both old, and very old in various states of renovation. The enthusiasm was palatable as we listened to this entrepreneur, inventor, visionary as he talked about successes and failures. I would imagine him to be very hands on and a task master who is not afraid to get in and help in any situation. He seemed very passionate about the standard of his trains, the attention to the physical details and the services provided. He shared that after we set off on our journey he was planning to celebration of his own. An engine had made a successful journey of so many miles testing a combination of diesel and electricity with a toast of fine champagne. He finally glanced at his watch and said he had been talking too long and we must be going and sure enough as we rounded the corner of the rail yard back to the station house, there she was, our beauty, dark green paint shining with lights ready for us to embark. Yes, I was really Alice in Wonderland, and the rabbit hole was remarkable.

We were escorted through the mahogany cars with their dark green patterned carpet by our stateroom steward. The guests’ names are inserted in a holder at the front and back of each car and on the door to each stateroom. While there were only about forty-four of us it is a long train, and we needed all the help we could get finding our way. Our steward stops at an opened sliding train door and we step into more gleaming mahogany, dark green carpet, muted red matching chairs and accents. Beds made to perfection that a coin would bounce sky high upon a military inspection. In one word, quite simply lovely, dripping with old world charm and grace.

After refreshing before dinner, we make our way to the Dining car. The tables are perfectly set as we are greeted by our wine sommelier. As she pours our first selection, I take in the table presentation. Many of you know of my weakness for china, crystal, and silver, so imagine my delight to find monogrammed china and crystal, not to forget heavy quality linens and a place setting that covered the delights we were offered. One knew dinner and the recommended wine pairing were going to be culinary delights based on the presentation alone, and we were not disappointed. Every bite, every sip was perfect. The detail of the service was impressive as our food was presented at one time and nothing was cleared from the table inappropriately. All guests were addressed as ma’am or sir, and I certainly felt like a ‘lady from the manor estate.’

Once the evening’s activities had concluded it was time for the first sleep on the rails. The stateroom is shuttered in darkness as we travel though the pitch black of South Africa tucked in our beds with the finest pressed sheets and pillowcases to rest our heads. Sleep comes slowly but surely. Remember we are on an old school railway and this rail talks as it sways to and fro and slows to a stop when passing small villages. What a day. Good night ‘Alice.’

Day Two – rail
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Rail is a wonderful way to travel, slow and steady, nice, and easy with time to savor and absorb your surroundings. As we make our way north, we pass through small towns and villages where we are offered a glimpse into the simple pleasure of children and adults waiting for the train to come by. Some run to wave and we wave back, smiling as we can feel their excitement. It made me wonder about the effect of that simple wave and could they see my smile as I could see theirs. It was probably the most exciting part of their day a treat every four or so days. Can you imagine a wave or smile affecting someone’s whole day? I thought of it as a lesson to stop and be reminded of how a simple act affects others as well as me. Every day it grew more important to sit in the Observation car and watch for the children and adults waiting for us.

Our scenery is changing as we ride the rails. Light dirt to darker red brown dirt and mostly barren flat land to green and hilly as the mountains drew closer with every turn of the wheels. We quickly realized how long the train is as we weave through the sweeping right and left turns. What an impressive site against the ever-changing landscape. As I look out the window of the observation car there is a lovely healthy flowing mountain river weaving along beside us and it was beautiful as it glistened with beams of sunlight. Green, the sign of life.

Traveling along out of the mountains we are now back to flat land, but this land is dotted with agriculture and homes with gardens lush with dark greens. Fall crops of corn were harvested as we pass by rows and rows of dried stalks. The landscape changes again as the sun starts to set. There are no homes or villages but long stretches of tall, fenced land probably marking a reserve or national park and I wonder what animals are waking up for their day, our night.

Breaking me out of my wonder I hear the chiming dinner bell, literally. The tones transposed into a beautiful melody. This ma’am is dressed in anticipation of the awaiting delightful culinary experience in the dining car. To my surprise as I slide open the stateroom door our steward is walking the length of the train with a chime board making a sound liken to mellow hand bells with about six or eight notes. The tones vibrate into a beautiful melody that could be called the sailors sirens or the rail. Yes, ‘Alice,’ it has been a wonderful day.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Day Three – rail

The lull of a train’s constant motion worked its magic as sleep came hard and fast. That and the fact that the stateroom was freezing cold as I awakened thankful to be tucked under blankets and a down duvet. It was going to be an exciting new day, but you know that wonderful feeling that tells all your senses to stay put, that says, do not disturb this magical comfortable feeling by getting out of bed. Well, I had it bad, but today was to be a day of adventure, we were off the train for an excursion. I guess, in retrospect maybe it would have been wise to keep the temperature where it had been set instead of lowering it a couple of degrees.

Eventfully I was up and ready for an exciting day. We kept on the rails until after lunch, passing by many small towns or villages. Some are so small you wonder how the people support themselves without the services we take for granted. I am so city oriented that it is hard to comprehend what their everyday life may be like. Honesty it makes me feel small, taking things for granted, and way too focused on things that really do not matter. That is one way that Africa changes you.

Following yet another multi course beautifully presented luncheon we got off the train for the first time. Only then all of us truly realize the length and beauty of the train. It surely would make an impression on those that see it pass by.

Traveling by bus we entered Matobo National Park for a game drive. We saw the Bushmen drawings on boulders which are thousands of years old unprotected from the elements. It was amazing to see some so clearly. We attentively listened to the story of the Bushmen people as one of the guides gave us a lecture about their life and story. The takeaway was that their lives were centered on leaving no footprint of where they had been, using everything they harvested from what the land or wildlife provided. Old ways and beliefs that served them well for many years. This part of our excursion brought yet another reason to love Africa, nature rules. So many times, we as a society try to find a fix for everything including balancing nature and some of it is good but maybe it is not always the best approach especially when you see things that have survived thousands of years. I believe it is right to question if we are respecting nature’s way and support those who hold the same philosophy.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

The Matobo National Park also offers work opportunities to support the people that live in the area. We saw women walking through the park after a day’s work of cutting and bundling tall grass. Providing paid work for them and work that needs to be done in the park. A local market is set up within the park by town people selling their wares. Everything we purchased went directly and fully to the person, no fees for space, and everything was made by them or a member of their family. They even sell their money which is in huge denominations like 500,000, 1,000,000 and 2,500,000 for US $1.00 or $5.00 currency. We would say their money is virtually worthless, so selling it was pure profit and we had the fun of walking away gazillionaires.

Our guide interrupted our shopping and said to follow him in single file and not stray off the path. We blindly followed as instructed like school children, having no idea what was awaiting us as we walked silently behind him in knee high tall grass dodging you know what on the ground. We picked up his excitement as we dodged rhinoceros’ poop, known as mit. The first thing we saw were two arms rangers, and then the guide told us to look carefully. You will not believe it, there in the tall grass was a mother and baby white rhino. There was also a teenage male hanging out with the new mother and her baby. We were standing in awe approximately nine to ten feet from them. Unbelievable. They could not have cared less about us. They walked around and ate as we learned more about their lives in the park and how closely the rangers track to protect the three hundred or so that live within the park. Beautiful animals that are sought by poachers for their horn. So senseless as their horns can be trimmed like you and I trim our finger and toenails. However, when there is money to be made and willing poachers, there is a market that will pay big money. Sad, just plain sad.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Leaving the rhinos, we climbed in the safari trucks driving, passing by enormous rock formations balanced on and on top of the mountains creating stunningly beautiful silhouettes. We were on our way to visit the grave of Cecil John Rhodes. Little did any of us know we would be climbing up and up a very rocky and steep mountain wondering all the while how in the world most of us would walk down without tumbling. When we finally reached the top, oh my, what a sight, gorgeous colors painted the huge rocks and grasses in contrast to the blue sky, and you could see for miles and miles and miles. I have no idea where on the face of the earth there would be a more beautiful spot to be buried. Once on the top we could walk around the massive round and odd shape boulders which are perched precariously ready to roll down if the ground were to rumble. Turning to take in the 360 degree view you feel a tranquil quiet sense of calm as an inner calm grows into a feeling of harmony with nature. One with your God and the creator. Yet another reason to love Africa. Cecil John Rhodes died in 1902, he was founder of the De Beers Diamond, the Rhodes Scholarship Fund and funds The Matobo National Park.

We have had an eventful day and another scrumptious dinner, perfect wine pairings and are ready to turn off the light. All is strangely silent, no noise, none, as we are stationary for the night, quiet, dark, and cool. It is an African night with a full moon on its way in just a couple of days. There is nothing like Africa.

‘Alice’ you certainly dropped down a ‘choice’ rabbit hole.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Day Four – rail

Another glorious morning greets us. Riding the rails with cars wobbling back and forth causing us to laugh as we walk the corridors like drunken sailors. I would not trade this experience for anything.

Breakfast is served and then to the observation car as we are going on a late afternoon safari at the Hwange National Park. It seems like there are differences in a national park versus a reserve. In my humble and lay opinion, the animals we encountered in the park are more aware of your presence. My story to share involves a herd of about ten to fifteen elephants doing what they do, eat. We sit and watch them first breaking the ground with their arms. Just a sidebar we learned last visit the bone structure of their front legs is that of our arms, so arms, not legs. But, back to my story. After breaking the ground, they pull the loosened grass with their trunk swishing the bundle in a very rhythmic motion against the ground to shake off the clinging dirt. Only then is it ready to eat and so the cycle goes on again and again. It is mesmerizing and fascinating to watch and watch we did.

The sky darkened with the approaching night, and it was time for us to get to our cocktail campsite. Well, we are in a national park and a mother elephant stood proudly in the road way sheltering her baby which stood unaware of us at her back leg, and we were not able to drive around her due to the rest of the herd. She let us know we were in her space. Her trunk going straight up in the air as she got our scent, taking steps towards the vehicle, full ears perpendicular to her face and stomping the ground. Believe me, we knew she was the boss as we sat still, not moving a muscle, or whispering a word. This went on for what seemed an eternity as we waited patiently for her to lose interest in us. Finally, she along with her baby started moving, giving enough room for us to pass. We did not want an angry elephant, after all we were guests.

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

We then made our way to a huge beacon of bright light coming from a roaring campfire against a glorious sunset to have cocktail hour as the sky turned black and someone throw stardust into the sky creating bright shining stars. We return to the train and find candles lightening our path, warm washcloths for our hands and a chilled glass of bubbly waiting. An extremely quiet relaxing way to end an evening. ‘Alice,’ what a day we had, night.

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Day Five – Victoria Falls

Today we come to the end of our rail journey. We have been treated like Queens and Kings as we express our sincere thanks to those that made our journey so very special. Rovos Rail is an experience like no other.

Our bag is packed as we approach the Victoria Falls Station in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Once again greeted by name as we take a very short path from the train to the Victoria Falls Hotel known as “the grand old lady of the Falls” built in 1904. Walking to the entrance just imagine stepping back in time, glorious tall ceilings, incomparable woodwork, the open-air front lobby beckoning you to enter, and you see a walkway following a courtyard, through gathering rooms, to an immense beautifully landscaped lawn. Closing my eyes, I see grand ladies and gentlemen in beautiful garments, hats, and gloves, taking an afternoon stroll, watching the “smoke that thunders” waiting for the bell signaling high tea or a lawn game of croquet.

And then, oh my goodness gracious, I walked that pathway through the doorways, courtyard and gathering rooms onto the lawn and there is it the thundering smoke billowing up to heaven stretching to touch the clouds above. Simply magnificently beautiful.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

We anxiously awaited our driver and guide to visit the Falls. I cannot wait. My last visit was to the lower water flow and this season we have much more water. We don our rain jackets, and everyone has phones or cameras ready as we start to walk the path. You can already feel the mist and hear the thunder as we make our way to the first lookout point. There she is, the most beautiful falls in the world, massive, falling with such force. And then, looking straight ahead there is the most wonderful site, painted in the sky from top to bottom is a full double rainbow.

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

The colors are so strong it looks permanent and truly I believe it was as we saw it with every turn of our walk. The beauty of the Falls and the rainbows just takes your breath away. As we continue to make our way to all the lookout points, the misty rain is a combination of gentle sprinkles to a spring shower, and we love it. The droplets look like prisms in the gleaming sunlight as you look up and let them fall on your face. Seeing the Falls, you can understand why Victoria Falls is a National Heritage site and is considered to be the 7th Wonder of the World. Surely not an experience to be missed.

We then return to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon. The grand lawn calls me to take in its beauty so to a lounging reclining chair with a book I go. Yes, I closed my eyes and pretended to be one of those ladies of past times sitting just out of the sun with a cold glass of lemon water reading and glancing up to see the “smoke” against the blue sky. All I needed was a gentleman with a dove grey coat and a top hat to escort me to tea

Yes, ‘Alice’ add this to the list, a little piece of heaven.

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Evening came as the “smoke” and blue sky turned to darker blues with hints of sunset colors as we boarded a dinner boat to cruise the Zambezi River. Stunning and beautiful colors painted the sky as the bright orange red sun dipped below the horizon. We enjoyed cocktails with Zambezi names and wild colors as we watched a pod of hippopotamus playing and talking in the water. More cocktails and a scrumptious dinner were served as we floated along.

Another full day – a wonderful day.

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens-IMG_2323
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Day Six – Victoria Falls
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

I believe we all have a favorite animal and for many people it is the elephant, they are big, walk slow and seem to just be interested in being with other elephants and eating. They are lovable giants. Today was elephant day as we journeyed to the Elephant Encounter. I was thinking of my first encounter with the elephants and expected this one to be about the same. Hold your ‘elephants,’ it was totally different. Upon our arrival we got into the safari trucks and drove a short distance. Our group of eight or nine received instructions to walk single file, behind the armed guide, constantly watching where we were walking and going. We walked through the brush and there in the middle of trees were about eight grey giants and one small young giant. We approached quietly as we reached for our phones and cameras to capture the moment. The giants just continued to eat, looking at us as we said hello and walked between them. Then the magical time came as we followed the elephants to a clearing and they went on their own to their spot behind some well-placed fallen trees raising their trunks in anticipation of what was going to happen next. Using two hands to scoop food pellets out of a basket I start walking over to one that already has his trunk up and mouth open, a quick toss of the pellets in his mouth and he was happy but quickly looking to see who was next.
The baby was the most anxious to get his share and kept on trying to put a front arm on the fallen tree only to receive a very light tap from the guide standing close by. It reminded me of a toddler being told no, only to test, test, and again test the rule. You just had to laugh at his behavior, he was little, cute, and certainly a favorite. They are amazing animals. How remarkable to their dry skin feels to the contrast of how soft the back of their ears are, their eyes set so far apart seeing all, how they use their trunk for food and also for their safety ever watchful, and then to top everything off they have eye lashes that are a mile long. Elephants, you just cannot get enough of them.

Following the wonderful interaction, we were then treated to breakfast in the middle of the forest of trees with a stream to talk with the other guests about what we had experienced. It was a delightful peaceful morning.

Later that day we were in for a total change of pace. We were to have a late lunch at The Lookout Café. I would venture to say this is a must for anyone visiting Victoria Falls. The view of the gorge and the distant ever rising mist is outstanding. Of course, there are activities for the adventurers and people lined up for the zip line and bungee jump. This time there were no dare devils for the flying fox which really made me wonder why I did it on my last visit. Maybe I am a little more of a dare devil but, not enough to do it again!

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Till next time, you ‘grand old lady.’

Day Seven for the next four nights – Botswana

I had been told that a visit to Botswana calms the inner soul and I found that to be true. Here is my story.

First, we had to cross the Zimbabwe/Botswana border. That did not sound too difficult after all we had a driver, easy breezy, right! Well, I exaggerate, our driver was great as he loaded our duffle bags into the van, he proceeded to tell us we had about an hour drive to the border where, after we crossed, we would be transferring to a different vehicle and driver. I thought that is not too bad however we quickly realized as soon as we left Victoria Falls the two-lane road was barren and straight. I am talking straight as a poker, no turns, with maybe one sweeping turn and two hills. It had to be one of the most boring drives for our driver, so you know me, I started a conversation. Bless his heart, after the border he had to turn around and drive back, by himself, for another hour of straight, long highway. We are so spoiled to have rest areas, gas station stops, there was nothing.

The land is vast as it stretches on and on without end. Even as we travelled this solitary road or any road for that matter it surprises me to find a person walking beside the road alone, going somewhere but nowhere at the same time. They must walk for miles but where they are traveling will remain a mystery because there doesn’t appear to be anything around.

Well, we finally made it to the border, and I was thankful that our driver seems to know the procedure and authorities. Totally unexpected, when we got out of the car to go to the first control point, he asked me how many pairs of shoes I had in my bag. Yes, you read right. I thought what in the world does he want to know the number of shoes I had packed. Well, remember, I only had a duffle bag and my backpack, so the question in my mind was do I tell the embarrassing truth as I am counting up in my head the actual number or do I drop one pair off and say I have three. I told him three including the pair I had on. I gave him two pairs and he promptly dipped the soles in a chemical wash to prevent Hoof & Mouth Disease, we follow suit with the shoes we were wearing and then the vehicle went through a drive to cleanse the tires. Future travel note to self, clearly need to evaluate the number of shoes I pack.

Small land border crossings are interesting. Very rural but very official and no nonsense tolerated so we yes madam and no madam, got our passport stamped and off we went to meet our next driver. He was waiting for us in a safari truck and said we had about fifteen to twenty minutes to get to the airport. We did not really have any idea what to expect and were surprised to find what we in the States would call a small municipal airport, a tower, small planes, and even smaller planes dotting the tarmac all with a single prop.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

As we were called to our plane we entered ducking our heads as we found a tiny hard sit and fastened out our seatbelt. How exciting as we took off for the bouncy, helicopter type feel hour long flight to the Okavango Delta region. There is nothing like flying over different landscapes around the world and this was no exception. It was everything imaginable, barren, treeless, flat, mountains, rich looking bodies of water outlined by green vegetation. You could see very small clusters of homes in the middle of nowhere. And then, off in the distance we could make out a clearing and runway. Yes, it was the one cut out between green and brown vegetation and nearly waterways. We circled and dropped lower, lining up for the landing.

Bounce, bounce, and we arrived at our destination Eagle Island Lodge. The safari trucks sitting at mid point of the runway start making their way toward us as we stepped out of the plane onto the well-worn graveled concrete quickly noticing evidence of animals that had passed by not too long ago.

A guide with the biggest and warmest smile greeted us and I knew we had just stepped into another rabbit hole. I was proven right as we pull up to the entrance the sound of singing voices welcoming us, just magical. This may sound crazy but singing in Africa is beautifully different. I may not understand the words, but I hear the strong voices, the melody and harmony proudly breaking through the sounds of the land. The raised voices call to your inner spirit and a wonderful feeling warms your soul.

The Lodge is an open concept where the greenest of green wetlands are flanked by distant trees which serve as a frame for the water of the delta. A herd of hippopotamuses with their ears just above the water line are snorting at each other while bobbing their heads in and out of the water talking to each other sounding like a leaf blower. Following an orientation that included instructions to not walk unaccompanied to or from our tent in morning or evening darkness, we were escorted to tent #4. I tried to sleep in a tent once, and this was no tent. It was a tented house complete with opened deck and a plunge pool, a living area, floor to ceiling mosquito netted bedroom area, soaking tub, the necessary, and indoor and outdoor shower and a beverage and snack cabinet fully stocked with everything imaginable. No detail was left unturned, and this was to be our home for the next five days.

I met Kops, our guide for the first late afternoon safari. What makes a safari so special is looking for the signs and finding an animal. Kops would stop the vehicle, listen, and look, at times looking in the sand like roadway for tracks, tell me what he saw and off we would go. It was so interesting to watch him listen for sounds, look at the sights and signs making that determination and then tell me what we were following. And go we did, not caring if there was a roadway of sorts or not, driving through tall grass as high as the door. But, oh my, seeing animals in their natural environment is magical. The highlight that even were two sets of lion cubs and I knew we were in for a special treat the rest of our stay. But, more on the lion cubs later.

If you have been on safari, one of the delights is a morning and evening stop. Tonight, would be the first evening stop. We stop in the middle of nowhere as the sun starts to dip below the horizon. Kops is setting out snacks and pouring a cocktail for me. These moments I refer to as ‘out of Africa’ moments. They are based on years of tradition. Just me in the quiet, one with nature, nothing around as I hear the night calling. The dipping sun paints the sky at the end of day. It was good to be in Africa again.

The top five animals are the lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros and buffalo and I have been fortunate to see all five, however would like to share what animal experience makes my top five.

First, the three cubs that we saw that first safari night became a part of a bigger story. On one of our visits, waddling in the grass was another set of three younger cubs well camouflaged. Their little legs were not strong enough for them to walk straight and they ventured out of the safety of their den. Meanwhile the older three ventured a short way from their den of fallen logs and a deserted termite mound, walking with oversized paws trying climb high over the logs and branches and not to fall off. They would look directly at us with curiosity as we snapped picture after picture. If they moved, so did we.

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Then wonder of wonders, we saw the two Mothers walking down a well-worn path coming home from their evening hunt. They looked at us but were much more interested in checking their cubs. It was great fun over the course of our visits to see how the older ones were venturing a little further as they gained a little confidence. The best day ever was when saw the mothers again returning from the hunt as the three bigger cubs were playing a type of king on the mountain game on the deserted termite mound with each other. The Mother of the younger cubs went to them, and they were happily feeding while the other Mother walked by her cubs checking to make sure they were okay. The three on the mound watched as she walked away and started to bark at their mother for more attention. The sound they made was totally ignored by her so finally they gave up and continued to play.

Second, the Cape buffalo were amazing because of the sheer number in the herd. Kops estimated maybe four to five hundred including so many calves. We first saw the dust on the distance horizon and went to follow. Off roading through the tall grass and dodging trees and bushes there in the mist of a clearing we find the herd, staring at us as if to say, what is the big deal. Mooing, and waiting for the leaders to say, we’re staying put or let’s go. As one of these powerful animals travel, the young and old are ever watchful of their surroundings and any danger that may be lurking. They watch us carefully as we watch them.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Third, Impala and any of the ‘deer like’ animals must be in the top five. They are so very alert and aware of danger, and to see a herd run stretching their stride, much like shifting a car to a lower gear and kicking up the rpms. But, the true wonder of the Impala is the birthing of their young. 90% of all Impalas give birth within a three to four-week period, and the mothers can dictate to have young early or late depending on the rainy season.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Fourth, while not the same at all, I am going to put these cats together, the Cheetah, Leopard and Lion. They are equal in beauty and equally vulnerable. I was not able to capture a good picture of the Cheetah we saw because it was camouflaged and quick. They are stunningly beautiful and to see one is quite special.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Fifth, the social butterflies, Zebras. Growing up I thought they were just extra pretty horses with stripes. Not quite. They sort of, kinda resemble a horse because of the four legs, mane, tail, and face, but they are stunning animals. I say they are social butterflies because often you see them hanging around Giraffes, Blue Wildebeest, Impala, and other herbivores. We did see them in small herds by themselves, but they like being with their friends. Kops could give you all the details as to which animals like which one and which ones do not get along at all. It is humorous to think they are like people in that way, some we get along with, and some maybe not so much.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

PS: I do believe the Baboon’s are the ‘bad boys’ of the land. While the Warthog is one of the ugliest but the cutest when it runs. I think you could sit a glass of water on their back, and they could run not spilling a drop as their white tipped tail stays straight up in the air.

We learned many new things about all the animals we saw. The day Kops stopped put his hand up and whispered, shh, listen, we looked around wondering what he had heard or seen, then noticed the giraffes standing as still as a church mouse and all facing the same direction, the baboons were talking up a wild streak, something is going, and we need to go see. Again, pulling off road, he looked down and finally said, it is a female leopard, and she is headed this way, we followed, and she appeared, very aware that the baboons wanted her for their next meal. We followed her through the tall grass, across the roadway trail, we followed her as she marked her presence, and we followed when she climbed a tree to perch and listen to herself. She was small and just stunningly beautiful.

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Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

A = A or you can say, Africa = Animals. Okay, I might have to add one more category, birds, I know! For those of you that may not know me, as a young teen I watched the black and white horror movie The Birds and decided right then and there that I would never like any bird of any kind. Well, I have been converted. I have never seen such beautiful birds, small and large with the most gorgeous colors in my life. The ones that sang and called to each other were in perfect harmony with nature, a visionary and hearing delight.

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

An ‘out of Africa’ experience to share.

When little I was sure that I would be a princess and I loved reading all the fairy tales with happy endings. I would venture to say that all of us love a happy ending and all of us like to feel special. Eagle Island Lodge went above and beyond, in plain talk, they went totally off the grid. Let me set the stage. We are heading back to the Lodge from the morning safari and Kops said he was going to drive by the riverbank just to see if there was activity. Of course, we were like, great, you are in charge. Driving along mostly flat land we can see something in the distance, maybe something set up for a gathering and a couple of people. I quickly said, Kops it looks like something is going to happen over there and we don’t want to interfere. He just kept on driving without paying a bit of attention to me.
As we arrived, I had a true ‘out of Africa’ moment. There set up in the middle of nowhere was a washstand, a table with a linen tablecloth, three full place settings and crystal, a buffet table laden with chafing dishes, salads, and beautiful fruit. Of course, there was a cocktail table, and we popped a bottle of champagne. Few times in my life have I felt like I travelled back in time, but this was surely one for the record book, one that will forever be in my mind’s eye and heart. One with nature, surrounded by new friends, Kops, Delilah, Ollie, and Jutta. Surely, I had stepped on a movie set and the crew and cameras were out of site. I could have been wearing a long white dress and carried a parasol. To say it was wonderful is an understatement.

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

Africa – why go? In all my travels there is no place like it on earth. In the beginning I said, Africa changes you as it lives and breathes in your very soul.

So ‘Alice,’ aren’t you glad you stuck your head down that rabbit hole?
Blog credit: Sharon Owens

africa-a-journal-a-journey-ntaba-africa-blog-Sharon-Owens-sun
Photo credit: Sharon Owens

 

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