|Two cheetah brothers|
|Not the best picture (taken through the airport glass) but you get the idea. Multiple loading ramps, double decker, four engines -- really big plane.|
|Gateway Theater of Shopping|
The following day we set off on our safari adventure. Before you start thinking about how brave we were to rough it in the rugged South African countryside, let me describe our lodge. This was not a scouting trip with campfire-cooked food and sleeping in pup tents on the hard ground. The lodges had around 15 cabins, all with hot, running water, king-sized beds, maid service and air-conditioners. The food was prepared by professional chefs with lots of fresh, local ingredients. We had cappuccino in the morning and wine at dinner. Our intent was to see animals, not live like them.
|Our "cabin" at Phina. The woods were dense enough so that you couldn't see the other cabins. Despite that, we still shut the curtains at night.|
|Not a great picture, but this was the view from the dining area. We saw an elephant, warthogs and impala walk across the grass at various times.|
So while we may have lived like kings, there was still some element of danger. The lodges were unfenced, so you weren't allowed to walk on your own after dark. Rather, you were guided by a ranger armed with a......flashlight. I'm not sure how that made it safer, but we readily complied with the rule. The day before we arrived one of the elephants had been hanging out at the swimming pool so intrusions were not unheard of.
|The early wake up call got the best of some members of our crew.|
Two rangers led us on the drives. One was the driver; he was the leader of the two. The second person was the tracker. He would sit in a special seat off the front bumper so that he could see the tracks in the road or the fresh poop in the road; he would then relay this information to the driver who would decide which direction to go. But of course the most useful tracking technique involved a walkie-talkie so all the drivers could communicate what they had found and where. Sometimes it didn't seem like the tracker really did anything. But then, just when you'd question his value, he'd spot some 2 inch long chameleon in the bush as we drove by at 20 mph or a leopard hiding in the grass at night.
|The tracker found this leopard our first night.|
Being on a reserve, most of the animals were used to the jeeps so if we did find them, they didn't run away. However, that didn't mean they were easy to find. For example, one day we wanted to see elephants. We looked for 2 hours but never saw a single elephant. Seems like elephants would be kind of hard to miss. We even turned off the jeep and listened for them, but the elephants already knew that trick and stayed real quiet.
|We did manage to find this guy. Or rather he found us. Here he was flapping his ears and stomping to try and scare us away. We took the hint gave him some space.|
|Sam preparing our morning snack in the bush.|
|Hot chocolate on a cool morning|
Then it was back together at 3:30 for some (more) snacks before setting off on the second game drive. The routine was the same as the morning -- two hours of animal viewing, a stop for drinks and a snack, then a drive back to the lodge. The return drive was in the dark. Being in the middle of nowhere the stars were fantastic. It was clear enough to see the Milky Way and satellites going across the sky. We also saw some owls. Very nice.
Back to the lodge for dinner at 7:30 then off to bed (guided by the trusty ranger) to prepare for the same routine the next day. It makes for a very relaxing holiday -- you don't need to do anything, you don't make any decisions and the food is great. Plus no internet or cell phones.
|The view from a high spot at Phinda.|
|Some of the "roads" we drove on.|
|This was our plane from Phinda to Ngala. Instead of seating 500 people it had seats for 4 passengers and 2 pilots. The jeep driver had to drive down the runway to clear off the impala so we could take off.|
|No bathroom on the airplane, so we all used the bush toilets beforehand. Here Lori had to wait her turn and let the warthogs clear out.|
|A herd of impala. Or "lion food" as our guide called them.|
Interesting Fact: Elephants eat at least 14 hours per day. They spend the other 10 hours hiding from safari jeeps. Another Interesting Fact: Phinda Reserve has 4 prides of lions, but they will be moving some out in the near future to reduce it to three. In the words of our guide "the lions eat everything".
|This is what happens when we let Grant take the pictures.|
|We weren't at the Great Migration, but there were lots of wildebeests.|
|Lori got a nice shot of this warthog. While they look ferocious from the front, when they run away they put their tails straight in the air and look exactly like Pumba in the Lion King.|
|I'd like to say this is an action shot of elephants stampeding into the water as the lions chased them down. Actually it's a evening picture of 15 or so elephants coming to the pond for a drink. It's blurry due to the low light and long shutter time.|
|We found this lion and watched him for 5-10 minutes. I was starting to get a little bored when the driver pulled the jeep around the corner and we found......|
|........more members of the pride. Like most cats, these lions didn't do much of anything except sit there.|
|This mother was trying to give her mostly grown child a bath. The child just reached up with her giant paw and said "no". It didn't deter the mother at all.|
|The king of the jungle was keeping cool under a tree.|
|A family of black rhinos.|
|Notice the bird cleaning out the right ear (as you look at it) of the front rhino. Wonder how that feels? Wonder if it's loud?|
|White Rhino. As you can see, both the white and black rhino are grey. You (or more likely the ranger) can tell the difference by the shape of their mouth.|
|These cheetah cubs are about 4 months old.|
|Here they're following their mom.|
|We were hoping they would run into some impala, so we followed then for about 1/2 an hour. But all they were doing was looking for a spot to sleep for the night. They found this spot and went to sleep and we went looking for giraffes.|
|The feared cape buffalo. He does look pretty mean.|
|You'd think we were being treated to a blood curdling roar. But no, he was only yawning. Remember he's a cat.|
|No matter the size, cats really have no shame.|
|Two brothers playing|
|We found a group of hyenas that had made their den out of an old termite mound. There were about 20 of them around the den that evening. Here two young ones nurse.|
|This was as much as we saw of the hippos. They only came out of the water at night.|
|This is the bush that we drove through to see the wild dogs. The ranger was not afraid to run over small trees.|