Safari at Last

Two things were lingering on my To Do List that seemed like long shots. One was to get up the nerve to get a tattoo and the second was to go on Safari. I am happy to say I can check "Done" for both. The lovely 6" feather inked along my forearm on my 60th birthday in Santa Fe still surprises me sometimes but I love it. And on my 61st birthday Michael and I touched down in South Africa for a trip that, when complete, will take us through five African countries and on not one....but two safaris!

I've met a few "Feathered Friends" along the way - this kindred soul lives in Galway, Ireland.

I've met a few "Feathered Friends" along the way - this kindred soul lives in Galway, Ireland.

Last fall we were telling people that the next leg of our travels would take us to Australia and New Zealand. But my desire to go on Safari came up again, and since we hadn't made any firm plans we changed direction. That was also due in part to a travel goal of Michael's. He really wants to visit all 15 former Soviet Republics (because he's like that). We've ticked off ten and only the five "Stans" remain, those being Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyztan, and Tajikistan located in Central Asia.

Screenshot 2017-05-04 20.45.33.png

From Africa we will make our way north via the Middle East (we've already booked ten days in Beirut) into Kazakhstan and on from there. But that's another adventure, another time.

As to how we became so fortunate to be going on two Safaris, here's the story. There was a time in our lives in Seattle when Michael and I would attend charitable auctions - we've even chaired a couple. They were always a great night out culminating with the frenzy of the live auction where bidding became almost as intoxicating as the copious wine being poured. One wave of your bid number and before you knew it you were the lucky owner of a Golden Doodle puppy or a 10 day cruise up the Amazon. 

Two years ago our friends Kathy and Michael found themselves the winning bidders on a Safari in South Africa. And they very were happy! But try as they might to make the trip, the timing was never right. So the donation certificates languished in a desk drawer.

When we were home and house sitting for these very same friends last November, we mentioned we were going to book a safari to start off our next round of travel. They looked at each other and simultaneously shouted "You can have ours!" They doubted they would use it and hated to see it go to waste. They got in touch with the safari company and fortunately they were happy to honor the donation. Wow! And no matter how much we offered, Kathy and Michael wouldn't let us pay for it - so we owe them something very special in return.

Morning coffee break. There were times Michael and I had our guides to ourselves - that made for some very custom "game hunting" and-one-on one learning about the wildlife.

Morning coffee break. There were times Michael and I had our guides to ourselves - that made for some very custom "game hunting" and-one-on one learning about the wildlife.

From our starting point in Cape Town we worked our way to Durban to join African Spirit Photo Safaris. We were picked up in Richard's Bay by our affable guide Mike and driven two hours toour lodge in the spectacular Manyoni Private Game Reserve where we would spend the next six nights. We went on our first game drive that very first afternoon!

Every day we'd be up before dawn, grab some coffee, fruit and a few "rusk biscuits" (sort of like biscotti meets a granola bar) and head out at 5:45 am to see what we could see! We'd return to the lodge about 9:30 for breakfast and then had the day to ourselves until the afternoon drive at 4:00. We'd arrive back after dark for dinner around 7:00. Collapse. And do it all again the next day.

At least we had skies like this as an incentive each morning, along with the deep, woodsy smell of the damp brush and a symphony of bird song.

At least we had skies like this as an incentive each morning, along with the deep, woodsy smell of the damp brush and a symphony of bird song.

When we first sighted the herd we counted over a dozen heads poking up from the trees. Once we got up close the little ones brought the count up to twenty!

When we first sighted the herd we counted over a dozen heads poking up from the trees. Once we got up close the little ones brought the count up to twenty!

On the first day I told our Mike that if I could just see a giraffe in the wild up close, I could die happy. Our dedicated guide delivered on my dying wish most every day - including a Giraffe-fest on our last day when, during our coffee break in the wild we were surrounded on all sides by at least twenty of these long neck lovelies. Then cue the Zebras! About a dozen of my second favorite animal came trotting into the mix and all of a sudden we were in a scene from Lion King! I must have 200 pictures!

Such a magical moment. I didn't know it then, but in a few weeks time I would be getting a lip smacking kiss from a giraffe in Kenya at the Giraffe Center. More on that in another blog.

Such a magical moment. I didn't know it then, but in a few weeks time I would be getting a lip smacking kiss from a giraffe in Kenya at the Giraffe Center. More on that in another blog.

Speaking of pictures, I use my trusty iPhone 6 and a little Canon point and shoot I bought in Cape Town with bit better zoom than my phone, and Michael uses his iPhone 5s. I have to say we are very satisfied with the memories we captured! I did get twinge of camera envy when I saw some of the shots our companions shared - but I am glad we aren't hauling around a heavy camera to worry about on our Senior Nomad travels, and as 90% of you know, your phone allows for instant gratification.

Michael kept a running tally of the animals we sighted and there were many! His favorites were the Ostriches and the Impala.

Michael kept a running tally of the animals we sighted and there were many! His favorites were the Ostriches and the Impala.

These majestic young lions were just a few yards away from our vehicle and in no hurry.

These majestic young lions were just a few yards away from our vehicle and in no hurry.

We could hear elephants cracking branches and chomping bark well before we came along side to watch breakfast being served. This fellow is carefully stripping bark with his tusks.

We could hear elephants cracking branches and chomping bark well before we came along side to watch breakfast being served. This fellow is carefully stripping bark with his tusks.

There were optional activities available a la carte so we decided to change it up one day and drove to the Islmangiliso Game Reserve set in dunes and wetlands along the Indian Ocean coastline. We started out at the same time since we had a two hour drive ahead of us and animals don't sleep-in. At our first stop there was a chance we'd see some Hippos in the estuary but no guarantees. There was also a chance we'd see them lumbering along the road near the small town of St. Lucia. We passed several "hippo crossing" warning signs along the road - I think if you hit a hippo with your car, you'd be the road kill! As it turns out we did see the beady eyes of a hippo in the water, but by the time I fiddled with my camera he took a dive and didn't resurface.

Trust me. He was here a second ago! Just as I got my camera ready Mr. Hippo disappeared and was never seen again.

Trust me. He was here a second ago! Just as I got my camera ready Mr. Hippo disappeared and was never seen again.

A visit to the shipwreck strewn Mission Rocks Beach on the Indian Ocean near St. Lucia.

A visit to the shipwreck strewn Mission Rocks Beach on the Indian Ocean near St. Lucia.

We saw a lot of these regal Kudu. An animal we'd never heard of, but came to appreciate for their quiet beauty and ability to blend into their surroundings.

We saw a lot of these regal Kudu. An animal we'd never heard of, but came to appreciate for their quiet beauty and ability to blend into their surroundings.

My big five are different from the usual Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Water Buffalo, and Rhino.  Give me Zebra, Giraffe, Monkeys, Ostriches and Cheetah! We saw all ten except the elusive ieopard within our reserve. African Spirit Safaris delivered!

My big five are different from the usual Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Water Buffalo, and Rhino.  Give me Zebra, Giraffe, Monkeys, Ostriches and Cheetah! We saw all ten except the elusive ieopard within our reserve. African Spirit Safaris delivered!

Cheetahs are hard to find so we were thrilled to see this mother and two cubs one morning. We also spotted two white rhinos with a calf. A good day out!

Cheetahs are hard to find so we were thrilled to see this mother and two cubs one morning. We also spotted two white rhinos with a calf. A good day out!

"Didn't I just see you outside?" Our lodge had a trophy room that sort of gave me the creeps.

"Didn't I just see you outside?" Our lodge had a trophy room that sort of gave me the creeps.

On the next to last night at the lodge we met a group of eight men who where staying there. They were not on safari, they were game auctioneers and had arrived to run a large auction the next day. We learned quite a bit about the "game" industry and how animals are sold between lodges for both breeding and hunting along with adding coveted stock like leopards and wild dogs. We were fascinated to learn about a whole new business so we decided to go to the auction the next day and check it out.

A Kudu ready for auction. Afterwards, he will be moved to another Game Reserve looking for fresh blood for their herd.

A Kudu ready for auction. Afterwards, he will be moved to another Game Reserve looking for fresh blood for their herd.

The game auction in action. One Water Buffalo going once, going twice, SOLD!

The game auction in action. One Water Buffalo going once, going twice, SOLD!

A herd of elephant set the speed limit on the way back to the lodge.

A herd of elephant set the speed limit on the way back to the lodge.

So, we now have our first safari under our belts and it was a great experience. Since we didn't book it ourselves we decided to just take it as it came without any preconceptions or expectation. It was the perfect way to approach it because we learned a lot and can take that experience with us later this month on our second safari. That is a trek of 12 nights spent in 3 different camps in Tarangire National Park, The Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. We booked the trip through a well-respected Seattle travel company called Wildland Adventures  and look forward to the adventure they put together for us.

But no matter how wonderful this second safari turns out to be, it will never replace the wonder of our first encounter with lions lazing in grass, elephants lumbering ahead of us on the road, or (be still my heart) the day we had bush coffee with the giraffes. Or, our deep appreciation again to Kathy and Michael for making it possible.

Note - If you have read our book Your Keys, Our Home, we would appreciate it if you would take a moment and give it a review on Amazon. Thank you.

Thanks for following along!

Debbie and Michael Campbell

The Senior Nomads