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Lions & Tigers & ME…Oh, My!

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AfricaSafai_JavierPhoto Credit: Javier Cubria

I had the world in the palm of my hands, could spin a globe and choose anywhere to go. But I didn’t need a vacation, I needed an experience.

After countless “best places to go” Google searches, recommendations from friends and coin flips, I finally decided to choose a once in a lifetime trip and head to South Africa for an African safari. To avoid the looming rainy season, I had to quickly make up my mind on who my traveling partner was going to be. Despite receiving some pretty appealing offers from friends, I think I made the right choice…my mother. I’m pretty sure she had an amazing time and I’m very sure I’m now the favorite child. Either way, it’s only fair to share some of my experiences with the masses, so…

I’d love to jump right into my safari experience but there’s no way to ignore the ridiculously long flight to South Africa.  Despite how many episodes of Modern Family I watched (5), Sudoku puzzles I attempted (0 for 9), or terrible movies I tried to sit through (MIB 3, Rock of Ages, Man on a Ledge) I couldn’t put a dent in this 16-hour flight.  My mom was uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable and the rest of the plane seemed to be equally uncomfortable as our ears were plagued with the never-ending sound of flight attendant call bells and groans from fellow passengers.

Miraculously, the minute we touched down it felt like everyone on the plane was reenergized. We put that long flight behind us and were ready to take on anything Johannesburg could throw our way. This lasted all of five minutes, when we realized the baggage handlers at the airport were on strike and there was no way of telling when we’d get our luggage.  Thankfully, just a mere two hours later the conveyor belts started to move and my safari experience was ready to begin.

My accommodations were set at the Thorny Bush Game Lodge, located about 300 miles North East of Jo’Burg. Yes, that meant more traveling, but this was much different. My subsequent travels consisted of two connecting flights on tiny charter planes in-and-out of dirt paved village “airports” while flying over amazing landscapes and awe-inspiring panoramas. The fact that I could reach forward, tap our pilots on the shoulder and ask about some of the villages, mountain ranges and other scenes was already an incredible experience. Catching glimpses of animal herds in the distance and elephants washing at watering holes made me that much more excited to land and head into the wild.

The minute our four-seater plane landed at Thorny Bush, we were welcomed by Clement and “John the Best,” our respective guide and tracker for the next five days. We took our seats in the topless Land Cruiser Jeep and started to get the lay of the land from our local experts. The Lodge itself was a perfect mix of a luxurious design with an African outback look and feel. The stylish furniture screamed 5-Star Lodge while the wildlife running around actually screamed African safari.  We arrived late (no) thanks to the airport strike and, after being greeted by the staff, were rushed to our rooms so we wouldn’t miss the upcoming safari drive.

We followed a very structured and intense schedule every day. Wake up call at 5:00am, tea and coffee at 5:30am, driving safari from 5:45–9:00am, breakfast from 9:30–11:00am, walking safari from 11:30am–1:30pm, lunch from 2:00-2:45pm, driving safari from 4:00–8:00pm, dinner from 8:00-9:30pm, drinks (if so desired) from 9:30pm on.

In writing this looks like a simple routine when in reality it was anything but that. Each day was filled with new sights, sounds, smells, and as anticipated, experiences. Each day was different, from our first safari drive where within minutes we caught our first close-up look at some of the more plentiful animals such as impalas, zebras and kudus, to the last night where our tracker (who spent 90% of each drive staring at the ground for footprints and clues) was poised to find the elusive leopard to complete our “Big Five” sightings.

That being said, one thing was constant: our reaction every time we’d spot and approach these fascinating animals in their natural habitat. Besides the safari drives, these landscapes are ultimately untouched. My mom and I were truly in the wild. There was something very humbling about the fact that the carefree giraffes we witnessed munching on some greens could easily be taken down at any point by some hungry lions. Or the fact that my mother was awestruck by the beauty of a cheetah lounging in the shade while simultaneously appalled by one feasting on a freshly hunted impala.

As far as our “Big Five” goes, we experienced lions lounging around resting up for a long night of hunting, herds of cape buffalo cooling off in the mud, a leopard hiding out in the bush sneakily evading our trackers’ flashlights, rhinos feeding and tending to their young and, of course, parades of elephants playing, feeding, washing and pretty much destroying any tree in their way.

Now that the trip is over, I can say without a shadow of doubt that my choice did not let me down and truly exceeded my expectations. Take my advice when I say GO ON SAFARI!

Thanks to MKTG INC, that’s one less item on my bucket list that I have to worry about. Now, back to work…

Hakuna Matata!

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Written by Javier Cubria
Javier Cubria

December 5th, 2012 at 12:10 am