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  • Karen Terhune Duncan

On Safari

This summer we made a remarkable journey to Switzerland and to South Africa. I chronicled a good deal of our adventures on my personal Facebook page (Karen Terhune Duncan) but many of my Senior Savannah readers are not FB fans, so I'm condensing a bit of the African part of our trip to this post.

After a few weeks driving from one end of Switzerland to the other we flew from Zurich to Johannesburg to begin Safari adventure. The largest city in South Africa with a population of more than 5 million Joburg (as everyone refers to it) gave us a very nice overnight stopover on route to our destination Game Reserve on the eastern coast near Mozambique.

This hotel just outside the city (owned by our game reserve) offered us a taste of what was to come. Our room had an impressive thatched roof/ceiling and gorgeous mahogany beds. It’s the end of a mild winter here and with temps in the 70s, spring is starting to bloom. There are many African dialects spoken but English is prevalent. The grounds were beautiful with peacocks, donkeys, horses and zebras roaming freely.

Our dinner was superb and the accommodating bartenders and waiter scrambled to make me the drink I requested (A suggestion from our South African Savannahian friends Tony and Bev Lombard, thank you!) a “Soweto Toilet” which was a complete success!

Here’s what it is (you can see what it LOOKS like ) The Soweto Toilet is banana liqueur as the base with an African liqueur Amarula on top and then dark creme de cacao that floats to the bottom, and served in a chilled shot glass. It’s actually very good!

We then were transported back to the airport and flown in a small prop plane to the coast for our first look at the Indian Ocean! We drove nearly 2 hours passing acres of eucalyptus trees, pineapple and sugar fields, arriving in the town of Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to our beautiful Game Lodge. After lunch in the massive garden we first met our guide, Mousa, and wasting no daylight, set out late afternoon to see giraffes, elephants, zebras and a pair of white rinosaurus (mama and her calf) as the African sun set.

First full day of camp we caught this beautiful girl chomping on her breakfast. African elephant ears resemble the outline of Africa.

There are less than 20,000 rhinoceros left on our planet. The poachers, mostly Asian, still falsely believe there is some medicinal benefit in their horns. Here in KwaZulu-Natal they are part of a massive movement to save them. This is a mother and her baby boy.

Native to Africa the zebra doesn’t have the back to be ridden, or the stamina but they are gorgeous. A group is called a Dazzle of zebra. How I love that term. We bought a carved wood Zebra mask that now hangs in our home and Doug calls her Dazzle.

The blue wildebeest travel in large groups called herds.

Being a member of the big five game, the African buffalo is a sought-after trophy in hunting but intensively guarded by game reserves.

This mama Hippopotamus is nursing her new baby who is just a month old. She has gashes on her side presumably from a male hippo wanting her attention. She’ll heal but must continually be on her guard. Male hippos are extremely aggressive and can be mean. Her baby is a boy. He’ll likely be off with the other males learning their ways in about 8 months.

This pair of rhinos are not technical sisters but they paired up after they both lost their mothers. They are adorably inseparable. I have remarkable videos of these two who are about 5 years old. Together they are pretty good at fighting off the males. Seems neither of them are ready for motherhood. You go girls!

When giraffes are in a group it’s called a Tower of Giraffes. If they are all moving they are called a Journey. They spread their legs to get food from the ground usually bone “for the calcium,” Mousa says. Most of their food comes from the top of trees that no other animal can reach.

Most male impalas (African antelope) stay together in what is referred to as Bachelor Groups. These two are aggressively playing.

Fever trees are native to Africa where the bark is very smooth, powdery almost white or pale green and when the light hits it glitters. Early Dutch settlers were mistaking their malaria symptoms for a fever from the powdery substance in the bark which is just pollen. They are just the prettiest trees shimmering in any light.

The warthog is so damn ugly he’s cute. They are everywhere, underfoot every other animal- giraffe, zebra, elephant.

The Vervet is an African monkey. They eat nearly everything and are quick to move, climbing trees and racing across fields. They come in many colors.

Fever Trees sacrifice itself by pushing off dying limbs. Giraffe and elephant love this tree. Zulu people call the Fever Tree “umHlosinga” which means Shines from Afar. The tree glistens in the sunlight. It’s just gorgeous. Mousa wipes some of the tree bark pollen on his face to demonstrate how Zulu culture would use this to announce to the tribe they had something to say.

Each morning we'd gather just as the sun is beginning to rise. The moon is still bright overhead. It’s 6 am. Some banana bread, local pineapple and strong African coffee and we are off in search of animals.

For us visitors, the weather is perfect. 80 during the day and mornings are a crisp 60.

We found a cheetah and for an hour just watched him prowl around our Jeep. I wasn’t scared, just in awe.

The southern Yellow-billed Hornbill is a true resident of the southern African bushveld. He’s Zazu from Lion King! Here he’s just gathering food in his big beak and not digesting. He then goes and feeds his mate and young ones in the nest. The female sheds her feathers to make the nest (hence the term “feathering a nest”) then regrows her feathers after the young fly off.

We had a frightening “show” when this elephant and his 2 buddies were following and intimidating a rhino. Some wildebeests came running in and the elephants went nuts; so pissed off. Called “transferred aggression.” They charged at us. Quick reflexes got us out of the way. Then this one starts pulling down branches.

We visited the tiny coastal town of St Lucia and took a boat along an estuary flanked with mangroves. With drought high over the last years this body of water has separated so it’s all freshwater, no salt. Perfect for this pod of hippos.

Dipped our toes in the Indian Ocean with a backdrop of what looked like mountains but is actually vegetated sand dunes that are 180 meters (590 feet) tall and stretch from the Indian Ocean to the Mozambique border. Sat on a nearly deserted beach and watched a few whales breaching. That was a treat.

A Buffalo thorn tree has great meaning to the Zula’s. The Zig zag pattern of the branches represent life’s ups and downs. After a loved one dies branches are cut and placed near the grave. Their spirits can grab on to the thorns to stay with you. I loved the story.

The baby Cape Buffalo was born the day we arrived and by the 4th day he was thriving. And mama is a little more relaxed.

This elephant trio was still harassing others, and us (They are a bunch of naughty smart bullies) 😄🐘

Our accommodations at the Game Lodge have been lovely. Our room was stunning. (Honeymoon suite 🤫)

At night we could hear the winds softly whistle through the thatched roof.This is our ceiling! Quite a view from bed!

Doug on the terrace of our room by the pool

View from the terrace outside our room of the game reserve.

We were remote. Very remote. No television. No radio. Sparse WiFi. The library was an evening spot for the only WiFi available.

This Zulu woman beaded a tiny warthog in green and red for me as a Christmas ornament. He’s my Pumbaa!🌲

While the Fever Tree was really special I was intrigued with this beauty called a Coral Tree. “A coastal African tree,” says our Zulu guide Mousa. It blooms this gorgeous bright orange flower in winter and will shed them soon making way for full green leaves in spring.

Food was simple but ample. We’ve enjoyed a few nice South African wines 🍷

Magic Hour- what Doug’s Aunt Temple called 5-6 pm when she hosted her legendary cocktail parties. That’s what we called this photo at 5:40 when no less than 4 species gather to take a drink. It was magic.

A whole new sky we’ve never seen before. A dominant constellation, The Southern Cross which we were taught how to identify south. It sits right in the middle of the Milky Way and where we watched it from the dark wooded reserve.

A remarkable visit to a beautiful part of the world. Hamba kahle!

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