April 11, 2010 - Richards Bay, South Africa

Finally, our first stop in Africa! Well, technically, South Africa, but who cares! We sailed into Richards Bay on Sunday, April 11th with a very exciting, and authentic, excursion to look forward to! We were going on safari! And the best part was it wasn’t a tour with Destinations, but rather a crew excursion set up by our Human Resources Manager, Debbie, so we didn’t need to worry about keeping a head count or being “on stage” all the time. It was perfect!

Unfortunately, our adventure couldn’t begin until after another crew drill in the morning, but after that was completed, we all (the whole cast was going) grabbed some lunch and then met in the crew mess at around 1:00pm to check in. We were all so excited! We had planned to put together some safari of our own, especially in Mombasa, but were bummed when that fell through, so when this opportunity came along we took it!

The bus ride to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve took about an hour and a half. When we arrived, our open-air jeeps were already lined up and waiting for us! After a quick potty break, all of us singers and dancers packed into our own group vehicle (It was perfect. They sat ten exactly.) and set off for the adventure of our lives with our guide, Vernon!

From the moment we entered the reserve I couldn’t help but feel as though I was in the movie, Jurassic Park. Surrounding me were thousands of acres of land, home to hundreds and thousands of wild creatures of which I may or may not have serious run-ins with. Yes, clearly there weren’t going to be any dinosaurs, but there was a feeling of risk and anticipation with potentially being ‘too close’ to a wild lion or cheetah. Admittedly, however, I did think it’d be cool to get scratched by a lion, leaving me a huge scar, with a great story to tell for the rest of my life. I know! I’m strange.

Anyway, we were all so pumped! We were setting off on a real safari! This was not like seeing animals at the zoo, or at Animal Kingdom in Disney World! These were wild animals in their complete natural habitat. From everything we’d been hearing from other crew members and passengers, we were a little worried that our day might not pan out to be as fulfilling as we hoped. You see, apparently we were “going at the wrong time”. They say you should go extremely early in the morning or early in the evening to see the most activity, and we were smack dab in the middle of the afternoon. Well, I’ve got news for ‘em all! They were wrong!

It was literally within the first five minutes of our expedition that we ran into our first sighting – two warthogs that were scourging around the bush. It was already like the Lion King! Pumba was in front of our eyes! Then, next thing you know…we went from warthogs to rhinos! It was incredible! Just a few yards further were about four or five of them grazing in the field. And it didn’t end there! As we were observing the rhinos, someone in our jeep shouted to “look in the trees!” And yep! Right there through the trees were two giraffes. Keep in mind we still weren’t even thirty minutes deep into our safari. In my head I couldn’t help but think about how wrong everyone was about not seeing anything, but I didn’t dare say it out loud. I didn’t want to jinx our luck.

And our luck did continue! After we cleared the trees that the giraffes were feeding from, the plain opened up to reveal not only more rhinos, but also zebras, wildebeests, impalas and one lone buffalo, which Vernon predicted was probably kicked out of his herd because he was too old. It was such an invigorating sight to see all of these different wild species sharing the same land and living as one. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

I also couldn’t believe the temperature! Although the day was absolutely lovely, I was surprised to find that Africa was not hot, at least not this time of year. Again, my ignorance is shining through, but I always just assumed that all of Africa has desert-like weather all of the time. I was wrong. In fact, it was a good thing that I had brought along a thermal because it actually got somewhat chilly when the sun went down and the wind was hitting us from driving. Some of the girls were even shivering a little. Anyway, back to the safari (just thought that’d be interesting to note)…

So after we got our fill of watching the action in the clearing, we set out to see if we couldn’t find more of what are referred to as the “Big Five”. This is a term used in Africa, and all over, to distinguish the top five most dangerous animal hunters in the jungle: buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, and leopard. Vernon told us that if we were lucky, we’d probably see three out of the five. The cats, he said, are more difficult to see because they typically sleep all day and don’t wake until hunting time, when the sun goes down. We had already seen the rhino and the buffalo, but it was clear that Vernon wanted to get us to some elephants. He kept radioing in to base and seeing if any ‘action’ spots had been reported. We had just watched some buffalo take a mud bath and were enjoying the incredible opportunity of having a close encounter with a few giraffes when a call came through. Next thing you knew, we were told to hang on tight and were off in a shot!

After speeding along the rough terrain, and through some pretty thick bush at times, we finally reached our destination, a watering hole, complete with oodles of elephants. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. I knew elephants roamed in packs, but this was insane. There were probably about forty or so of them, ranging from humongous adult to practically newborn baby. (There literally was a two-month year old baby elephant. His ears weren’t even off of his head yet.) Words cannot describe how absolutely magnificent it was to stand, not more than twenty-five yards away, and witness these beautiful animals feed, bathe, communicate and play with each other.  I watched them do everything from twisting their trunks together, to rolling around in the grasses playing. It will definitely go down as one of the greatest parts of this trip. And the best thing is this: Vernon told us that in all of his five years working there, he’s never seen anything like that ever. He said, normally, if anything, you’ll see the elephant come down for some water and go right back. We were so lucky! Unfortunately, it was about that time to get back. So I took one last glimpse of the scene, capturing it into my memory forever, and boarded the jeep.

Our ride back was just as thrilling as it was to get to the elephants. I guess we were more crunched for time than I thought because as we were speeding along we nearly hit the five zebras who were parked in the middle of our path. This was now the closest encounter we had the entire safari. The zebras didn’t seem to care at all that we were there and so we were in an unbelievable proximity to them. I literally could have reached out and petted one. Again, insane! And, again, it didn’t end there. We were just about back to the busses when someone spotted the last animal we’d see on the adventure – a hyena. There it was, just lying in the tall grasses. At first, we mistook it for a baby lion, but Vernon told us differently, saying again how lucky we were to catch them out so early into the evening.

I guess now that we were finished, it was completely safe to say that those who were negative about our chances of a successful safari were wrong! Yes, of course I wish I had seen some sort of cat, but when we got back to the ship and heard that no safari (whether crew, passenger, or independent) saw them either, and not only that, but didn’t see nearly the amount we saw, I realized that we truly were lucky! With or without a lion or leopard encounter, our safari in Richards Bay had been purrrrr-fect!




Richards Bay
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April 22, 2010
I am so glad to read your posts from south africa. The safari sounded incredible and you are taking in every experience to the fullest. I can't believe you are doing all of these amazing things that most of us only get to watch on tv and marvel at them...I can only imagine what it must be to really BE THERE!!! I love you.
April 24, 2010
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