Day 13

Today was another early morning but this time, 200% worth it. We reported to the game vehicles at 7am after some coffee and set out for our sunrise drive, searching for every animal that we had missed the day before. Our first hit was the two elephants kept in the park. Unfortunately, this reserve is only 8 combined farms and about 2000 hectares (~5000 acres) whereas other parks like Kruger (northeast South Africa) are more than 4 million hectares. Because of its small size, it cannot sustain free-roaming elephants or lions (legally) and, instead, has those two species cordoned off and taken care of by highly trained zookeepers. For the first time, this park felt more like a park than nature by having these animals contained. However, the elephants and lions were all rescued from hunting lodges and rehabilitated/socialized so I guess it’s all for the greater good. We watched the elephants eat their breakfast (lots of grass) with the sunrise behind them and it was the definition of a money shot (see below for proof).

Next, it was onto more ostriches, zebras, lions, antelope, then, finally, the giraffes. I learned more wildlife facts than I can remember and absolutely basked in the beauty of these animals all while witnessing the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen. It was pink, blue, orange, and cast shadows over the lateral acacia trees to create a surreal vista. If you remember the beginning of “The Lion King”, that’s exactly what this morning felt like. The biggest animal highlight of the morning was the giraffes who walked right next to our vehicle. They’re so friendly and so majestic! See below video for our giraffe escort (sorry it’s huge)

After we returned to the lodge, we had a wonderful breakfast of omelets, fresh fruit, toast, and the like. On our way out, we hit up the gift shop for some animal shirts and many postcards. We hopped back on our shuttle and begrudgingly headed back to Cape Town. I’ve spent the rest of the afternoon grocery shopping, catching up on the blog (sorry, fans), and watching Mad Men. It’s time to sign off so the Xhosa word of the day is “giraffe”: indlulamathi.

Day 12

After a week of waking up at 6:30, I was ready to sleep in but, alas, there is no time to sleep when you’re somewhere as exciting as Cape Town. At approx. 7:30 sixteen girls from the Connect program boarded a bus taking us to the Garden Route Game Lodge. 3.5 hrs later (filled with sleeping and a lot of reading), we arrived at this slice of heaven on earth. See below (or the photo gallery) for pictures of this place– from the deck where we had “high tea”, dry grasslands went on for miles, completely preserved.

At 4:30, we were introduced to our lovely guide, Ines, and set out for our first game drive of the trip. The first animal we came across was a beautiful white rhino named Tim. This dude was huge and we were only about 5 ft away from him. Ines told us a wonderful story about how one time Tim turned his back and urinated directly into the faces of a bunch of elderly Swiss tourists. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky but maybe next time :/

Next, we ran into a bunch of Cape Buffalo, one of the strongest animals in South Africa who gave us a stare down. They routinely pierce animals with their strong “headpieces” and, honestly, I was scared. Ines explained how the animals are socialized to see our vehicle as one object without humans inside of it and have nothing negative to associate it with. However, if we were to leave the vehicle, we would be charged in a minute. Scary stuff.

We drove around a bit more running into some more rhinos (mother and baby!), ostriches, lots of antelope, a hippo, and cheetahs! About halfway through the drive, Ines put us in park, turned around, and said, “you guys are a little quiet– let’s get some alcohol in you!!” We hopped out of the truck (less than .5 miles from some rhinos!!!) and watched the sunset with drinks-of-choice in hand… a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After a delicious curry-filled dinner and warm bonfire, we headed back out for a night drive, hoping to see some nocturnal animals (owls, small cats, jaguars, etc.). Sadly, we had no such luck but we did run into a family of porcupines and learn how to tell true South in the Southern Hemisphere from our guide during the nightly hot chocolate break. Still worth it.

Now I’m sitting in bed, ready to pass out even if it’s only 10:30pm. Tomorrow morning we’ll be up early again to head out on our sunrise drive so sleep is imperative! Xhosa word of the day is “cheetah”, the coolest animal of the day: ingwenkala.