Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lions and Elephants and Giraffes - OH MY!

Our very first glimpse of Beefy
Hey Friends!

We've had an eventful few weeks, as we were finally able to take a much anticipated holiday to South Africa! And it did NOT disappoint. Ev and I have been discussing this trip for years, but due to a few knee surgeries, a doggie back surgery, and the neverbending story, we've had to put it off. In addition, I've had issues committing to booking the trip, for fear that my knees would suddenly protest, and Ev would be stuck dragging an invalid through the African plains. So this trip became a goal that I set for myself, and I knew that if I could just get through the surgeries and work my ass off in rehab, I would eventually be well enough to not only go to South Africa, but to engage in activities with a med-free brain and pain-free knees. And I did it! I felt really good during the entire vacation, and was able to participate (mostly) without pain in every activity that we had planned. It is a huge accomplishment for me in my knee journey! Hurray! Suck on that one rare cartilage disease. I mean that with respect. (Ok, I'm still a little scared of my disease).

We are very lucky to have various friends and co-workers on island who are from South Africa who basically planned our trip for us, recommending a timetable, flights, restaurants, and hotels. We had such an incredible experience, as all of the recommendations provided were fabulous.

There's so much to share, and I just can't do the trip justice in one blog post, so I've decided to share several over the course of the next month, beginning with our experience on the Nambiti Game Reserve.

After a solid 16 hour flight from Atlanta, we arrived in Johannesburg, got some shut eye, rented a car, and drove 4 hours to the Nambiti Reserve. Nambiti is a private game reserve consisting of 22,000 acres and over 40 species of wildlife, including "The Big Five" - the Lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, Rhinoceros,  and Elephant. Within minutes of hopping on the open air Land Rover to get to our lodge, we ran into a massive African elephant, lovingly referred to as "Beefy." Beefy is the oldest elephant on the reserve, about 50 years of age, and teeming with attitude. Seeing an elephant, feet away from you, in the wild, is a breath-taking experience! Little did I know that Beefy had plans for us.

We checked into our luxurious lodge (we definitely were NOT roughing it) and we sat down for lunch, overlooking a watering hole. Lisa, our fabulous Ranger, came to our table and announced, "So, you have some company at your room right now. It's not safe for you to walk back alone, but I will walk with you." As we followed Lisa back to our room, we could see that Beefy was standing directly in front of our door destroying chomping on a  tree! We crept quietly as close to the edge of the building as possible and Lisa carefully watched Beefy's body language. I held my breath as we inched a mere 5 feet away from this beautiful creature. At one suspenseful moment, Beefy postured and Lisa whispered frantically, "go go go!" I guess Beefy was beefed that we were so close to his food (see what I did there?). We raced to the door and safely entered our room, Lisa shutting the door directly behind us. We were than held captive in our room for about 10 minutes, as Beefy set up shop directly outside our door. We peeked outside our door every few minutes only to see Beefy's massive leg directly in our view. What an incredible welcome! Interesting Fact: Did you know that an elephant's trunk has 40,000 muscles??? They destroy everything with that trunk, as evidenced by the mess of branches and leaves that Beefy left in his wake.

Watch us held hostage in our room here

We had 2 drives a day, one at 5:30Am and another in the afternoon/early evening. All of our drives were fantastic. We saw herds of elephants, including 2 big guys "tuskling" (I made that word up - you know, a tusk fight), as well as zebras, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeest, impalas, and warthogs. We witnessed a Mom and baby hippopotamus grazing in the water, a cheetah snacking on his zebra kill, and white rhinoceroses -  Mom and baby too! We watched a lioness attempt and fail at catching a family of warthogs ("Run, Pumba, Run!!"), as her lion cubs patiently waited in the bush for dinner. We watched male water bucks show off for the ladies during rutting season by smashing their horns together (the noise is incredible!) We witnessed the most unbelievable sunrise, and sipped wine beside a waterfall while watching a thunderstorm roll in at sunset. I spent my afternoons soaking in a luxurious claw foot tub, sipping Amarula, and watching elephants frolick in the water, holding their trunks above like a snorkel - all directly in front of my window! It sounds magical, doesn't it?It really was.

Run, Pumba, RUN!

Nice horns!

"Tuskling" for a lady

The Queen of the jungle - blocked our path and stared us down. 

Waiting for Mom to bring home the bacon (literally)

I saw this on Lion King once

"Grab the camera, kids! It's one of those humans from Canada!" 

See his buddy on his head?

The most awe-inspiring sight we saw; however, occurred during our second early morning game drive. At about 4am, we awoke to a massive ROAR that echoed in our room. It sounded as though lions were in our bathroom! When we reached the Land Rover at 5:30Am, Lisa explained that the two largest male lions on the reserve were communicating with each other. It appeared as though they had gotten separated in the night and were desperate to re-connect. I had barely wiped the sleep out of my eyes when we turned a corner and came upon the massive male lion with his dread-locked looking mane, standing directly beside our car. I panicked slightly and shrunk down into the seat (great plan! Make yourself look smaller and weaker, Kirstie!) We all held our breath as the lion paced back and forth next to our car, sniffing the air frantically in an attempt to locate his brother. Seeing a frantic wild lion a few feet from you as the sun rises, and hearing the lion sniff and grumble was just...there are no words. I felt very small, insignificant, and incredibly in awe of such a majestic creature. It's 5 minutes of my life that I will never forget.

Watch Lion video here!

Our Game Ranger, Lisa, was full of knowledge and passion for the animals. Upon seeing the White Rhino Mom and her babe, Lisa urged us not to share any rhino photos on social media, as poachers were using the coordinates to track these beautiful animals for their valuable horns. As I watched the hornless baby (they remove the horns to prevent poaching) snuggle up to her Mom, I felt especially saddened by what man has done to such beautiful creatures. I just don't get it. On the other hand, Lisa also helped me to understand the importance of responsible hunting, as an abundance of animals can lead to disease and famine. We spend a few hours on a game drive with Lisa tracking a lioness and her cubs. We followed footprints and searched endlessly through the brush. Lisa's enthusiasm and excitement, upon realizing that we were just feet away from the group of lions was palpable! Overall, we learned so much from Lisa, and gained such a respect for these remarkable animals.

We spent 4 awesome days at Nimbiti, and as we exited the park on Tuesday morning, I had to wipe a few tears from my eyes. Those who know me well know that I am not generally an emotional person. You know - hugs are for special occasions only ;) I'm not sure if I was overcome with emotion just thinking about my journey to get to this place - there have been moments where I thought that I would never feel well enough to travel and enjoy life again - I've come a long way, baby! Or perhaps this place just moved me in a way that created intense emotion? I'm not sure. Maybe a little bit of both. Nambiti was so so special to me and I am grateful that I was able to experience such a magical place.

Stay tuned for JAWS: Cage Diving with the Great White Sharks!

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