29th July – Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge

Took a long drive this morning in search of elephants. Very cold and with the speed Carl was driving the wind was keen. Hats, scarves, thermals and the all important leg rugs were put to necessary use. There was some confusion to the direction we should be heading and when Carl announced, “I’ve never been this way before”, we were somewhat alarmed. But we needn’t have been worried as turning off one road up a rocky hill we came face to face with an awesome sight. An elephant bull munching on some branches of a raisin tree. What a sight. Particularly when he came through the trees and face to face with us. I’m not afraid to admit I had to swallow hard as elephants are big, have tusks and could quite easily have pushed our truck over if he so wished – thankfully today he didn’t. We followed him down the road and when he made a very low gravelly noise Carl informed us that he was definitely communicating with other elephants that were in the area and judging by the volume they were close by. We turned off our engine in order to listen for signs that others were in the vicinity and we weren’t disappointed. Just around the corner we found another 3 elephants also feeding on trees. This sight could not be topped – or could it? As we watched the elephants, Hamilton, another ranger called through on our radio that a pride of lions had been spotted with young Cubs. Carl span our vehicle around in seconds and before we knew it we were speeding back the way we had come. This was not an opportunity to be missed.

A lion lay in the shade of a tree watching while his pride, made up of 3 lionesses and 6 cubs, went off for a walk – we followed. What an amazing sight to see the 5 month old cubs following their mum’s across a dry reservoir. We circled them to try and see them close up but before they could emerge from the bush the lion (dad) roared to call them back. We followed them back to his tree only to realise that he was guarding today’s kill – a young unlucky waterbuck. We watched them sunbathe for a couple of minutes before leaving them in peace for the all important daily ritual of coffee and biscuits.

Back at camp we see a baboon wandering around – it’s amazing how fast these crazy nature experiences have become second nature. Adam and Lizzie kindly let me utilise their outdoor shower joined to their traditional African Rondawel Room. I’m based in a smaller version with an indoor shower. Is it weird that I asked Adam to commemorate this moment with a photo? (See for yourselves below)

After Ad, Liz and Chris enjoyed relaxing massages and we are all served another delicious meal (the good food just seems to keep on coming) it’s time to hit the dusty dirt tracks again for afternoon safari. Zebra, giraffes and wildebeests are becoming normal sightings but we are in for a treat when we come across two rhinoceros brothers making their way to the waterhole for a wallow, a roll around in the wet mud to wash off parasites and a much needed drink in the burning heat.

We have time tonight for a sundowner – me and Ad choosing a can of ice cold South African Castle Beer – and go and take a look at the unusual sight of almost stranded catfish in just a few inches of water trying to survive the summer before the next rainy season. Then as the sunsets on another beautiful, awe inspiring day we make our way back to the lodge for more food in the boma – traditional outdoor eating circle with a fire pit in the middle. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever eaten as much food in such a short amount of time as I have here at Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge in my whole life!

28th July – Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge

Woken by a gentle tap on my hut door – it’s 5.45am. Teeth brushed and thermals on under today’s safari outfit – we have time for a swift coffee and a rusk biscuit before heading out into the bush at dawn. Today’s mission we are told is to find elephants and buffalo, but this is put on hold when we receive a radio transmission from another vehicle suggesting lions are in the vicinity. And so the hunt begins! This is fun. A network of vehicles keep in constant contact as we close in on the area of the lions. Our tracker “doctor” who sits on a seat at the front of the truck looks for telltale signs – movement and tracks. Eventually we manage a glimpse of a male and his lioness but they are too quick and a little too faraway for us to capture a photo. We try to follow their path but fail. Doctor decides that he’d be better off on foot! So hops off the truck and to our disbelief disappears into the bush with just a radio for protection. We’re told by Carl that doctor is not afraid of lions.

we spend the rest of the morning searching for the elusive lions – Carl insists that patience and persistence are the two biggest factors in locating big cats. After about an hour and a half our concern for doctor’s safety is unnecessary as we see him wandering up the dirt road ahead of us. The lions have escaped us (for now)!

As we head back to our lodge we spot wildebeest and a beautiful giraffe that goes some way to making up for our failed lion mission. We while away the afternoon sipping ice cold beer sunbathing in the blazing sunshine on the lawn. Graham keeps watch on the watering hole through his binoculars – announcing his findings, spotting Impala and a family of warthogs.

After lunch we head back out for afternoon safari. Chris wins best tracker when she spots some buffalo relaxing in the scrub of the dry river bed. Then a call comes through and we wrongly assume that we are on an elephants trail only to be overwhelmed with 12 sleepy lions cleaning and preening each other getting ready for an evenings hunt. Within ten minutes of our arrival at this incredible scene they all get up and make their way off into the bush. We are so chuffed to have finally found some lions today and with no time left for sundowners (drinks at sunset out on safari) we make our way home.

Dinner is again superb and I have a date with a Northampton family’s mum. We chat throughout the meal and before I know it I’m totally exhausted and it’s time for bed (9.30pm)!

27th July – Greater Kruger Park, South Africa

We set off this morning in the dark. Again it is freezing cold and we face a daunting five and a half hour drive without a map! Adam is driving and as his co-pilot I feel responsible for navigation but rely heavily on the back seat drivers who have at least read the instructions on how to get to our destination – thanks Chris and Graham! The drive is long but the landscape is amazing and the time flies by. Driving into an awe inspiring African sunrise is breathtaking – at times visibility is zero due to the crazy thick fog that appears from nowhere whenever we cross a river or reservoir. Adam and I love the African jazz cd that we have found in the glove compartment – it keeps us relaxed as Ad dodges the numerous potholes in the road. Harry’s Pancakes is a welcomed stop off for breakfast – recommended by our Pretoria hosts and we leave via the gift shop where Lizzie nearly purchases a willy warmer for my dad! (See photos)

As we near Kruger the landscape turns mountainous and we find ourselves meandering through valleys, climbing up hills and facing severe drop offs on either side of the road. Our nerves aren’t helped by a roadworks sign that reads – “Please don’t kill us!”. We see monkeys and baboons sitting on the side of the road and shack after shack selling nets of oranges and other citrus fruits. After a stop off for directions we finally arrive at the gateway to the park and our game spotting literally hits new highs when we see a giraffe with her baby right next to our car.

Mohlabetsi Safari lodge is spectacular, the welcoming staff wait to greet us with cinnamon cocktails and fruit kebabs before we’re shown to our cute accommodation. Lizzie buys us team baseball caps (the tommy tourists have arrived!) and we spend the afternoon checking out the facilities before sitting down for lunch on the lawn. It would be rude not to cheers with a bottle of red and when Zazou from the Lion King makes an appearance in the tree directly  above my head I am not amused. Adam tries to shoo him off and succeeds only for him to land on a branch above Chris’ head where he poops in her hair. Hilarious! All the other tables laugh too as Ad attempts to wipe the poop off Chris! We are the camp celebrities.

It totally brings us luck as on safari we see a host of animals up close and personal. A herd of Impala, kudu, wart hogs, steenbok, wildebeest, black back jackals, zebra (and for those who love a safari fact – who knew a group of zebra were called a dazzle of zebra?! – love that) our favourite find are a family of rhinoceros – proper Jurassic park t-Rex moment. We are a little concerned when Carl our driver and “Doctor” our tracker disappear at Pride rock to use the facilities (#tree) and we’re left alone in the middle of the African bush with only our beer sun-downers and our fear to keep us company! I imagine that they’re getting into their lioness costumes to do a run by but sadly (yet again) my imagination is running wild. We watch the sun go down and continue for another hour or so in the dark with the Doctor shining a powerful torch around the bush in a hunt for night predators. We are not let down when we spot a couple of cheetahs in a neighbouring park and return to camp happy and hungry. Dinner is theatrical – served outside at tables around a big fire pit. We discuss the day’s spottings and watch our chef cooking flambé on the open fire. After a star gazing talk with Carl our driver we play scrabble and finish off another bottle of red – I think I might just love safari!

imageThe road tripimageThe poop incident!ImpalaimageKuduimageChris and the rhino poopimageimageimageimage

26th July – Pretoria, South Africa

My connection flight from Dubai was somewhat turbulent making sleeping virtually impossible. Luckily wangled extra legroom – with my body in economy and my feet sticking out under the curtain into business class – my feet have illusions of grandeur!

Africa is freezing! Plumes of steam from my breath as I await my train to Centurion and frost underfoot. I thawed in the warm welcome provided by lizzie’s aunt and uncle Derek and Moi and their lovely family. After several cups of coffee lack of sleep was a distant memory for me, Ad and Lizzie who both managed only 3 hours after the wedding. We ate breakfast at Irene farm watching little grey monkeys playing in the trees.

After an elongated nap at the b&b we headed over to the Oldnall’s beautiful house for a Sunday tradition – Braai – aka BBQ. The side of filet that hung defrosting in the guttering was sliced, buttered and cooked to perfection in the fabulous garden along with lots of other meat. We drank delicious local wine leftover from Chris and Shan’s wedding and ate yummy food.

We chatted and laughed until the electricity went off (for the second time today) “load shedding”. Then using the glow from our mobiles made our way back across the road to our candle lit rooms. Shame I can’t utilise the electric blanket tonight but very much looking forward to a proper nights sleep before a 5am start tomorrow when we’ll be heading to Kruger national park. What a brilliant first day.

A cheeky grey monkeyimageimageimageimageimage

My 1st blog

25th July 2015 – Heathrow airport

Today is the day! I am sat in Heathrow about to embark on my round the world adventure! This new chapter is so exciting – I just want to say a big thank you to all of my family and friends for your continued love and support. It has been a rollercoaster few weeks tying up loose ends, getting inoculated and preparing to leave but I am so very happy that my adventure is about to begin. If you are so inclined you can join me on my trip by following this blog/travel journal, it may be a little self indulgent at times as it will act as my diary but I promise to update as often as possible (probably not that often deep in the Serengeti!) with pictures and stories and anecdotes. There will also be the opportunity to comment so please don’t be shy as knowing I have company (even if it is online) will be greatly appreciated especially when I’m missing home. If you are reading this from some far flung place and fancy a little visitor, have a sofa or fancy feeding me then I am open to invites! Perhaps I’ll see you on the road. I’m going to sign off for now as they are about to call my flight. Brace yourself world – I’m coming!

!!The last lunch image image image