PAGE II

In stark contrast to the township tour, Joe drove us that afternoon to the Stellenbosch wine region, for a tour and wine tasting at the Vergelegen Estate. It is beautiful, and the wine (which we relied on Joe to choose) was outstanding.

We left Vergelegen to go to the Spier Winery, where the Spier Cheetah Outreach is located. There Cookiey and I  interacted a little with baby cheetahs, and also with the cheetah named the fastest animal on earth by the Guinness Book of World Records.

 

On the same property is Moya Restaurant, where we met Joe's friend Janet for more wine & traditional face painting. Then Cookiey and I went to a private tent

for another fantastic dinner (not as good as Joe's). Singers came to our tent and performed traditional African music then, after dinner, Cookiey and I danced in the main dining room to more familiar rock and dance music.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, Sept. 22, We awoke early and had to say goodbye to Joe and Leeukoppie all too soon. Honestly, I miss both tremendously.

 

Joe returned us to Cape Town Airport for a flight to Tambo International in Johannesburg. We connected there to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport then caught a very small charter to the Sabi Sands landing strip in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Elephants could be seen drinking at a water hole as we landed.

 

This was the start of what would be the most spectacular safari imaginable. We were driven in a customized open air Land Rover to Singita's Ebony Lodge, where we would spend our first two nights.

 

After a check-in process where we signed away our lives if we were attacked by animals, and were told that we couldn't go out at night without a guard -- we were taken to our private, secluded and spectacular lodge. (Video tour all three of our lodges).

 

When we checked-in, a group of civet monkeys danced upon our deck and in the trees around it.

At 4:00 p.m. its tea time at the main lodge. There we met our ranger Leonard, our tracker Willys and the other person on safari with us that evening Des McCarthy, a high end travel agent researching Ebony Lodge for clients interested in African Safaris. Leonard & Willys were amazing, and it was great having Des with us as he was very personable and had been on safari before.

 

The safari started at about 4:30, and according to Des, we had a pretty remarkable first day. Rhinoceroses, buffalo, and elephants or three of the big five (no lions or leopards that evening). Then, before heading in Leonard asked if there were anything else we wanted to look for. Des answered he'd like to see a Cheetah. We drove out of the bush, rounded a corner and came across a cheetah in the middle of the road eating an impala -- unbelievable.

 

We got in at about 8:15 and headed back to our lodge to change for dinner. Then to the main dining room where the chef prepared a special vegetarian menu for me. Then it was early to bed for our 5 a.m. wake up call.

 

An all around, as Joe would say, "spectacular" day.

Sunday Sept. 23, 5:00 a.m. came all too soon -- but we still arose quickly as we were pretty excited by another day's safari adventure. At 5:30 our guard came to walk us to the main lodge, where Des, Leonard and Willys were already waiting. After a quick cup of coffee we were off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw a few impala, which are everywhere, and after a little while Des noticed, and pointed out a distant vulture in a tree. This, he explained, could indicate a predator with its kill nearby.

 

 

Sure enough, we approached, and came upon a big male lion. After following him a few hundred yards, he led us to a half eaten buffalo carcass.

 

Soon thereafter a few more male lions came along, and Leonard explained this as a very rare situation in nature.

 

This group of six males traveled together a long way to get here, then killed off all the other lions in the area (including females and cubs). They formed a symbiotic and effective all

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vulture beckons us to Lions

male hunting group.

 

Leonard referred to them as the gangster lions -- and since they killed off all nearby females, we referred to them as the gay gangsters.

 

Leonard explained that the dominant male in a pride will chase off the other males when they come of age. Perhaps, he suggested, these lions were cast out from other prides and banded together for survival. After successfully working together to overcome their earlier rough lives, this group stayed outside the natural order and remained a fierce all male pride.

 

That day we also came across more elephants, and finished the day with our first Leopard -- the big five in two trips.

 

Pictures from last three Ebony safaris are located here.

Monday, Sept. 24, after the morning safari we packed up to leave Ebony. After lunch we were transported to the landing strip and soon were airborne for a 30-minute flight (horribly bumpy & scary) to the dirt-road landing strip in Kruger National Park. There we would stay two nights at Lebombo Lodge.

 

This Lodge was very nice, but we did not find the accommodations nor services near as good as they were at Ebony.

 

We did see wildebeests, the very rare saddle-billed stork and our first zebras and giraffes here.

 

Our Ranger, Shepherd, and his tracker, Johnson, were both really cool and we did very much enjoy the safari part of our stay here.

 

The Terrain here was also spectacular, with huge red rock formations -- it looked like something from an outer space movie.

There was also a big river behind the lodge where we saw crocodiles and hippopotami.

 

The best part of our Lebombo safaris by far was the large pride of lions we ran into several times. I got lots of great pictures, and several times we saw them on a hunt -- but we never did see a kill. We did find a bunch of them eating a baby giraffe one night and there is some graphic footage of that here.

By the time we left Lebombo for the Boulder Lodge (back in Sabi Sands Game Reserve -- right near our beloved Ebony) we were seasoned safari-goers.

 

Still our first night back we had a pretty fabulous experience. Our tracker Phanuel found a leopard in a tree for us. We saw the same leopard our first time in Sabi Sands, but this time a freshly killed impala lay at the bottom of the tree -- and we had just left a nearby Hyena den.

 

Safari rules say if your tracker finds one of the big five, you can stay with it as long as you want, while up to two other vehicles at a time rotate in to see it with you.

 

Our ranger, Shelley, said this had the makings for something exciting to happen -- if we were willing to stick it out. We were willing, and very soon our patience was rewarded.

 

 The Leopard awoke and, as if it saw or smelled something coming,

Shelley our ranger

she quickly ran down the tree, and began eating her kill.

 

Not too long afterward, the leopard ran off and a hyena came and took the kill from her. The hyena ate at the kill for several minutes -- when the leopard and her son made a play to get it back. The hyena scared them off, then dragged the kill away, back to her den. There are some beautiful pictures here, but BE WARNED very graphic impala gorging too.

 

Although the leopard could have probably ripped apart the solitary hyena, she knew from experience that hyenas have nearby friends. We were later told the leopard got revenge. The next morning she followed her kill's scent to the hyena den and ate the hyena's two small pups.

 

audio of mother leopard

calling her distant son

 

I had to pick and choose, and invariably left some pictures and videos out.

This gives a good idea of how amazing S. Africa can be.