Ron Virmani — Visiting Mandela’s Land- Part I -The African Safari
It must have been fortuitous that I booked a vacation trip to South Africa on November 23 and spent about two weeks there, the last two weeks in the life of Nelson Mandela.
Since I went to Ecuador last year with STI (Singles Travel International) and had a good time, I chose the same company again. I flew from Charlotte to Atlanta and took a 15 hour Delta flight to Johannesburg (also known as Joberg), the largest city in the nation of South Africa.
South Africa, a.k.a. Mzansi, is one big country, stretching 1200 miles N-S and 1000 miles E-W. South Africa is a country of 50 million people and is fascinating on many different levels.
South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological and human fossil sites in the world — some 4 million years old. Some thousand years ago, Bantu speaking people conqueredand absorbed the Khoi Khoi and San people. The Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Diasdiscovered the Cape point in 1488. In 1652, Dutch East India Company established a stopover in the Cape of Good Hope on their way to trading with the East — India, China and Indonesia.
The British, the Dutch and the French colonized the country and defeated the native Bantu speaking population — Xhosa and the Zulu. Many wars and conflicts took place. The Dutch imported slaves. The Europeans instituted the policy of Apartheid. Nelson Mandela (a Xhosa) was jailed for 27 years because of this. But in 1994, the apartheid finally ended and he became the first President of South Africa. Now back to Johannesburg!
DAY 1 — Arrival in Johannesburg
After reaching Joberg on November 24, I checked into the Hotel and met up with fellow STI travelers and the tour guide, Chris, a white young man of obvious Dutch heritage. He spoke English and Afrikaans, a language of Dutch extraction. We were at Emperor’s palace.This was an upscale Roman theme complex of several hotels, a shopping mall, a casino and many restaurants. We mingled, ate dinner and went to bed.
Day 2 — Madikwe Safari Lodge
Next morning after breakfast, we took a 50 minute charter flight on a puddle jumper to Madikwe game reserve, named after the Madiqwe river. As we got to the reserve, two huge Safari jeeps pulled upby the side of the commuter plane on the airstrip. Billy and Daniel were driving these jeeps. They were going to be our safari guides for the next 3 days. We drove to the Madikwe safari lodge, about 10 minutes away and saw giraffes and impalas on the way. The lodge was surrounded by an electric fence to keep big game out of the lodge area.
At the lodge, we were greeted most cheerfully and offered welcome drinks. Then we were taken to our huts. The huts were spacious, with a small dipping pool on the back porch of each hut. Huts also had outdoor showers on the back porch looking over the vast game reserve and the giraffes walking by.
At 4 pm, we had “high tea” and got into our jeeps for our first safari adventure. Soon we came upon a pride of lions that had made a kill of a wilderbeast and were feasting on it. We spotted black-back jackals who were waiting patiently for any scraps that might be left.
Later, we saw elephants and a rhino. Rhinos are either black or white. We passed by a watering hole and saw several birds including egrets, herons and Egyptian geese. Roadrunner birds were always crossing the road in front of us with their cute and clownish gate.
In the evening, we stopped the jeeps and got down for some cocktails. Having a snack in the middle of African wilderness with a backdrop of multi-color sunset was very thrilling. Coming back to the lodge, the guide spotted a chameleon and picked it up to show us.
We came back to our lodge by dusk. We had to have a guide escort us to our rooms after 7 pm. The footpath to the rooms was narrow and completely dark. The guide had a flashlight, though. All the bugs were out in full force. Centipedes, dung beetles, millipedes, scorpions, etc. were in the way. We also spotted a snake.
The dinner was a “Boma” experience. A bonfire was lit in the open under the stars. Table was set up with candles for dinner. A great number of termites with wings were flying around. The native guides demonstrated how to catch them and roast them to snack on. Some of us enjoyed that experience.
Dinner included many meats including Impala. We went to bed around 10 pm.
DAY 3 AND 4 — Two full days of safari
We would wake up at 5 AM, have coffee, juice or tea in the morning with light snack and set out for safari by 6. It was summer time in Africa now. Animals were more visible in the mornings and evenings. We would see the animals from 6 am to 9 am. Then we would stop in the jungle for a small snack, juice or something. We would come back to lodge around 10 am.
One of the aims of safari is to see the “Big 5” in their natural habitat. These are the most dangerous animals to hunt. They are lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. We were not able to see a leopard but saw all the other animals many many times.
Breakfast was served around 10 am in the lodge. Then we would rest and have lunch around 1–2 pm. At 4 pm, there was the high tea. This would be followed by afternoon safari and then cocktails in the middle of jungle by the time of sunset. Then we would return to the lodge and have dinner around 9 pm.
On day 3, we again saw a pride of lions with a fresh kill. Two lions were seen mating. As you may know, lions mate for 3–4 days at one stretch, every 30 minutes, a total of about 200 times. We came across a herd of elephants drinking at a watering hole. Baby elephants are the cutest things. They stick to their mothers.
An elephant eats about 500 lbs of vegetation in a day and lives about 65 years. They use their tusks to manipulate the branches of trees.
In the evening, dark clouds came along with a bunch of rhinos, both white and black. These names are confusing because both types are about the same dark color. It started raining but cleared up. We drove to see 4 cheetahs. The jeeps were often within 20–30 feet of lions, elephants, cheetahs etc.
We also saw giraffes, zebras and wilderbeasts. The dinner this night was inside the lodge and less buggy.
On day 4, we set out to see a pack of wild dogs. There were about 20 in number, mostly sleeping or resting and they totally insulted me by not taking much notice of the presence of our jeeps within about 20 feet.
We encountered a herd of elephants with several cute babies and adolescents. About 6 lions were resting on the other side hoping to nab a baby elephant or something. But the elephants charged at the lions and ran them off in different directions.
Elephants came across the puddle of water in the middle of the road and used their trunks to spray themselves with the mud. Coating of mud protects them from sun exposure and parasites.
We went to the watering hole and saw the birds again. At one point, we spotted a lion who wanted to make a kill off a herd of wilderbeasts, but a Kudu, an antelope, saw him coming and started howling loudly so the wilderbeasts ran away from the scene. We saw many mounds of termites in the jungle, each about 4–5 feet tall. Most vegetation was thorny.
DAY 4 — THE BUSHWALK
Around noon on day 4, I went with the safari guide and Chris for a bushwalk. This means not sitting in a jeep but being on foot. I felt very vulnerable and scared. I knew I could not outrun any animals. The safari guide had a ready loaded gun. We set out single file in 90 degree scorching sun.
We spotted elephants about 75 yards away. We spotted warthogs and rhinos. Giraffes looked at us suspiciously. The zebras ran away. We picked up a tortoise. Luckily, the animals were not terribly bothered by us and did not bother us.
In the evening, we saw buffalos. At another point, we saw two Impalas fight a duel, probably over a female. Throughout these days, we kept seeing many elephants, Impalas, waterboks and other animals in the wild. Scrub hares would always be scurrying around in the evenings.
In 3 days of safari, we learned a lot about animal,birds and plants. We learned to recognize white rhino poop from elephant poop from buffalo poop. We played with Impala poop pellets by holding a contest about who could spit them the farthest! Alas, I lost!
Again, the dinner was “Boma”, ostrich as one of the meats offered.
DAY 5 — MORNING SAFARI THEN TO JOBERG
We spotted Klipspringers on the slopes of a mountain. In an open area, a bunch of wilderbeasts and baboons were roaming and feeding. We saw Springboks, which are the national animal of South Africa. Later in the tour, they were on dinner menu. We headed back to the lodge. I saw a large snake run into its hideout. Probably a Mamba!
Around 11 am, we finished our memorable Safari tour and took our charter flight back to Johannesburg. Little did I know that thousands of dignitaries from different countries would soon be assembling here to pay homage to Nelson Mandela. I am reminded of an incident in May of 1893 when Mahatma Gandhi boarded a train from Pretoria to Durban with a first class ticket but was thrown out of the first class coach by an Englishman.
I feel grateful that people like Mandela and Gandhi have fought against discrimination and made this world a better place. I have had to fight discrimination myself in the US. Please see –
I plan to write about the second part of my trip later. Ubuntu! (Which is Bantu for human kindness).