A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: paulej4

1. Sofari, not so Goodie

Want to come along?

Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Sunday, August 2, 2015

B4 and I are again off on an adventure. We are headed for South Africa. If you would like to come along with us, please do. If not, just mark this email as junk and you won't be bothered for the next ten days.

There are those who save dessert for last and those who eat it first. Those who eat dessert first cannot deal with delayed gratification. So it is with me; but substituting problems for desserts. I would prefer to get problems out of the way first so that I can enjoy the delights of my life without anticipation of whatever may go wrong--because it already went wrong and was already dealt with.

Delta Airlines has assisted me in this. Delta has presented B4 and me with a host of problems before our journey has even begun.

1. Yesterday, it was time to check in but we could not check in. Unlike other carriers, DL will not allow internet check-in for overseas flights. AA will do it and check your passport later. DL, we experienced, will not. Fine. Deal with it. Check in at the airport.

2. Also, yesterday, DL sent me this text: "Dear Mr. Russell, We understand the importance of providing pre-assigned seats for our customers and try to honor all seat selection requests. However, (you could hear that "however" coming, couldn't you?), seat assignments are not guaranteed. For your upcoming travel, your seat assignment was been changed due to seat duplication. We have done all possible to accommodate you in a similar seat. Please review your new seat assignments in your reservation on delta.com. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. (You could hear that coming as well, couldn't you?) If you have any further questions, please contact Delta Air LInes at 800 221-1212. *******THIS IS AN AUTO_GENERATED EMAIL. DO NOT REPLAY TO THIS EMAIL, YOU WILL NOT RECEIVED A RESPONSE******* Sincerely, Delta Air Lines. We had first class seats together in row two; now we have first class seats but on the bulkhead. The only problem with that is that we are traveling over 9,000 miles with only carry-on luggage. Taking away the under-seat stowage that I had planned for (in row two) means that we need to get four bags overhead. It's a small thing but it's not a small thing.

3. This morning, DL sent this email: "Last Minute Information about Your Trip. We are trying to contact you because times have changed for your flight on August 2." In essence, DL was telling us that our 12:24pm departure was pushed back to 2:21pm. So now, instead of arriving in ATL at 3:30, we are scheduled to arrive at 5:27. That means that our comfortable connection in ATL to our non-stop flight to Johannesburg is no longer comfortable. We should still make it but now the leisurely stroll from Terminal B to Terminal A will be more of a hurried walk. Not a jog, you understand, but a fast paced transition.

4. In an attempt to find out what was really happening with our aircraft, I went on the web. Delta.com offered no information. Weather.com showed no weather in Kansas City or Atlanta or anywhere in between. So, I did what DL told me to do earlier in the day; I called them. I'm no fool, however, I didn't call the main 1212 number because I knew I would be put on hold forever if I did. I called the DL Million Miler Special Private High Priority Best Customer No Waiting Line. After being on hold there for 44 minutes, I got a real person on the phone who could not give me any further information, could not get my seats reassigned off the bulkhead and, it turned out, could not read a clock because she told me that the aircraft we would ultimately fly on from MCI to ATL was already airborne because it was scheduled to depart at 1:02pm EDT and it was already later than that. The problem was that the call was taking place at 10:45am CDT which is 11:45 EDT. She told me that, where she was, it was already after 1:02pm EDT> I asked where she was. She told me that she was in ATL. We discussed what time it was in ATL but she said the clock she was looking at told her that it was after 1:00pm there--even though it was only 11:45am there at the time. I lost confidence in her at that point.

5. I asked to be transferred to a supervisor. That irritated everyone because the supervisor was downright nasty. By the time I had her on the phone, she began to lecture me about asking her one question at a time. By that time, B4 and I were in the car service on the way to the airport. I had the DL call on the speakerphone and our driver said, "Wow. I used to run a call center for DST and nobody should ever talk to a customer that way." I concurred. cc9b1ab0-2e80-11ea-b4a3-9b4d3abf0dd3.jpg

6. At the airport, Sally at the Sky Priority Desk, was loopy. She asked me three times how many bags I had to check after I had told her that we had no bags to check. She insisted that the television monitor that said DL had an earlier flight to ATL was wrong; there was no earlier flight. (there was--but it was oversold so we couldn't have gotten on it).

7. At the gate, the agent was the savior. She said she could not get us on the earlier flight but that she would watch for passengers who checked in for our flight to see if anyone would trade seats with us so we could get off the bulkhead. Whether or not she does that is of no concern to me. The fact that she showed empathy and offered to help is quite enough.

As I write this, it is an hour past our schedule departure and we have another hour to wait before our delayed flight is schedule to push back from the gate and there are no DL aircraft here--either for the "earlier" flight that is of questionable existence or our delayed flight.

A quick look at flightaware.com (a nifty site) reveals that our inbound aircraft has just crossed form Arkansas into southern Missouri and is scheduled to be here at 1:38, 2.5 hours late. Why DL can't tell us these reassuring facts, I do not know.

What this has achieved is singular. There is never anything to write on these travel blogs from your departure city because nothing interesting ever happens. Today is different.

Here is a customer service idea. I suggest that every institution stop saying, "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause." They should, I think, say instead: "We know we have caused you an inconvenience and we are sorry. We will try to make it up to you."

In any event, we are off to an interesting beginning for our safari. So far, not so good.

Posted by paulej4 15:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

2. Flying Forever

Four pilots; two to fly it and two to sleep

Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Sunday, August 2, 2015


Our destination is South Africa; land of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandella, P.W. Botha, F. W. de Klerk, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Jacob Zuma, once globally embargoed because of apartheid politics, one of only a handful of Africa countries to never suffer a coup d'état, today a multi-ethnic nation of over 50 million people who speak 11 "official" languages in an upper-middle income economy (according to the World Bank) due to recent industrialization but mired in political difficulty which clouds what its future might be. We are here for none of that. We come to safari seeking elephant, lion, rhino, the darkest of nighttime skies and a quiet that comes from being in the bush, far from traffic or even electricity.

At the base of the African continent, aptly named South Africa is bordered on the north by relatively calm Namibia and Botswana and troubled Zimbabwe and on the east by Mozambique and Swaziland while completely surrounding the tiny kingdom of Lesotho. It is a relatively large country with a long coastline on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Besides the beautiful city of Capetown (which we have no time to visit on this journey) the attraction of the country is safari. The gigantic Kruger National Park (about the size of Switzerland) is here but our destination is just West of there in the heart of Zululand in other national game reserves—Hluhluwe/Imfolozi and Mkuze Game Reserves and the World Heritage Site of Isimangaliso Park.


We are headed for Ezulwini Game Lodges who generously donated a week's safari to Musicares, the charitable arm of The Grammy’s®, to be auctioned off at their salute to Bob Dylan in Los Angeles last February. B4 is a major purchaser and reseller of Gucci watches—a sponsor of The Grammy’s—and we were Gucci’s guests at that star-studded weekend. B4 is fond of saying that "we won" our safari at auction and I am fond of saying that “we were willing to pay more for it than was anyone else.” The trip is the fulfillment of a statement I made to B4 the night we first met when, after being completely smitten by her, I said (she quotes this) “If this relationship is a lasting one, we will one day go on a safari together.” Well, here we are, just over a year later, on our way.

We are arriving in South African winter—dry season. The average daytime temperature at this time of year is 75 degrees, falling to 50 degrees at night. We were warned to bring “a warm jacket” for early morning and evening game drives.

We fly from Kansas City to Atlanta to catch Delta Airlines flight 200, a non-stop 15 hour flight of 8,500 miles to Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport. The Boeing 777-200LR jet seats 218 in coach, 36 more in what is known as “Delta Comfort+” and an additional 37 fortunate souls in what is now called “Delta One” class which is something between international business class and international first class. Delta’s seats were a part of our auction package. The seats have a round-trip “list price” of $12,637 each even though only last-minute walk-up business types would ever pay that much. We paid much less than that for the entire safari.


The Delta One business class “pod” experience aboard our Delta Air Lines Boeing 777-200LR is described on my seat’s “personal” TV screen (my comments in bold) thusly: “Lift off in luxury on long-haul international (at 15 hours, surely that’s us) and transcontinental flights. The Delta Oneä (they must trademark “Delta Oneä” so Delta Faucets doesn’t steal it for the smaller of the toilet flush buttons [the larger button being dubbed Delta Twoä]) experience includes expedited security, (we already have TSA Pre-Check which is EXCELLENT and better) premium boarding (Right behind everyone who opts for early boarding so they can “have a bit of extra time on the jetway” even if they don’t really need it) and priority baggage service (we have only carry-on luggage for this trip). Plus you’ll enjoy complimentary access to Delta Sky Club® (a nice complimentary pre-flight meal is available along with a complimentary glass of wine) and our network of SkyTeam® lounges on the day of international travel. Onboard the luxury continues. Relax in more (More? Why not “most”?) comfortable seats that include our Westin Heavenly® In-Flight bedding. (The bedding is a lovely blanket and not one but two pillows which are quite nice but only “heavenly” because we use them 37,000 feet closer to heaven than normal) Choose from your favorite movies, TV shows, games and songs from Delta Studio, on our onboard suite of entertainment. (My favorite offering from Delta Studio was a quite large grouping of wonderful short episodes from Jerry Seinfeld’s web TV show entitled “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” which is hilarious to watch) Enjoy Delta Oneä benefits on almost all (Almost All? Boy, wouldn’t you be angry if you were on one of their aircraft that didn’t have this knowing that the price is the same but the service is less?) intercontinental flights and transcontinental flights between New York-JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Our seating is described: 21in/78in. I think that means the seat is 21 inches wide and that it occupies 78 inches from the back of your seat to the back of the seat in front of you. A regular coach seat is 18.5 in/31-32 in. The 2.5 inches extra width is nice but the 46-47 inches extra length is spectacular. The seats lie flat so you can too. The seats are arranged in a chevron one-two-one configuration so that, even if you are traveling with someone, you really aren’t. Everyone is in their own private space but everyone’s private space looks directly at everyone else’s private space because of the chevron arrangement. It’s a sort of not private private layout.

Delta got me to purchase GoGo InFlight Wi-Fi when I was on the MCI-ATL leg because there was a price break if you bought it for your entire day. But, I wasted that money because there is no Wi-Fi over the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, well; I suspected that might be the case but I bought it anyway (caveat emptor).


The Flight Tracker map feature on my seat’s “personal” TV screen has been fun to check from time to time because it shows how much time remains in the flight and has an aircraft outline floating over mid-ocean for most of our journey. My pix from Time to Dest: 11:56 and Time to Dest: 02:22 to go are the bread slices surrounding my sleep and TV watching sandwich. Those 9 hours and 34 minutes flew by.


For B4, there was time to eat, time to sleep and time to answer “hundreds” of emails which had accumulated on her omnipresent laptop. I can only imagine the many in-boxes of her team when they all simultaneously received multiple reply messages at approximately noon Monday morning back in the USA (7:00pm Monday in JoBurg).

Food? Well, we were offered champagne, orange juice or mimosas along with a bag of almonds prior to pushing back from the gate. Once airborne, the eleven-member cabin crew brought an appetizer of shrimp and grilled pineapple followed by an iceberg wedge salad with tomatoes and blue cheese along with spicy Thai coconut soup. Then we chose from Braised Beef Short Ribs with red wine sauce, garlic smashed potatoes and broccolini OR Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice with carrots topped with raisins and almonds OR Seared Mahi-Mahi with fruit salsa, haricots verts, plantains and coconut rice OR Pappardelle Pasta with mushroom bolognaise and fresh mozzarella cheese. We both got the ribs which were fine.

After that comes Sweet Delights. You choose from a Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae with your choice of sauces (chocolate or caramel), whipped cream and chopped nuts OR A Tasting of Sweet Treats OR Selection of Fine Cheeses offered with fresh fruit along with freshly brewed Starbucks® coffee or Starbucks VIA® decaf.

In between, always available is the Skybreak Basket. It is described: “A variety of sweet and savory snacks will be available for your enjoyment.” Later, there is a Mid-Flight Snack of a bagel with cream cheese and preserves (today a croissant was substituted) along with seasonal fresh fruit and yogurt. Later still, there is “Almost There.” We are asked to please select one of these options: Chicken breast and gouda cheese sandwich on a pretzel roll with black bean and corn salsa OR Five Grain chicken cashew salad served with breadsticks and seasonal fresh fruit followed by Chocolate Truffle Cake. I skip the “Almost There” because I am “Almost Bursting” opting for only caffeine from hot coffee to jumpstart my time zone transition.

For white wine they offer either an American chardonnay or an American sauvignon blanc. For red there is a Argentinian full bodied Bodegas La Rosa CXV or a Spanish medium bodied Monasterio De Las Viῆas Reserva that hails, amazingly, from 2006. For dessert wine and port they offered a French Château Solon Sauternes, Bordeaux, and a Quinta Do Noval Tawny Port from Portugal. Of course, there was also champagne: Jacquart Brut Mosaïque from Reims, France. I had a glass or two of the 2006 which was nice.

I am uncertain as to how one could imbibe this much food and drink in fifteen hours and live to tell about it. When one spends this kind of money, however, to refuse what they offer is in some perverse way refusing to accept what one has paid for wasting value by leaving it on the table. Remember that we didn’t purchase these seats; they were a part of the charity auction package, so I feel none of that.

An interesting fact: There are four pilots aboard. Two went immediately to the cockpit and two went immediately to the crew rest quarters to sleep. Halfway, they switched. As for our Delta One® cabin mates, there is a certain uncomfortable familiarity that occurs when one awakes from sleep in a room with a few dozen strangers. I had that experience in the army and slightly less so in a fraternity house but I was younger and less formal then. To see groggy, hair-mussed, wrinkled (both skin and clothing) folks up close and personal is a bit off-putting. People sans brushing (hair and teeth) should be neither seen or heard.


Speaking of teeth brushing, our Delta One® in-flight amenity kit comes in a mini-Tumi hard-sided case and contains a ballpoint pen, a sleep mask, ear plugs, tissues, lotions, mouthwash, toothpaste and a toothbrush but, interestingly, no comb or hairbrush. The absence of the latter is, at this stage of the flight, frightfully apparent.

If you are a follower of these blogs, please note that unlike our recent flight from Philadelphia to Venice, there was no youthful presence in business class on this flight. No one was screaming or crying or romping or running or climbing or clowning or complaining or tapping or drumming or otherwise disrupting the environment. Pippy? We hardly missed ye.

It is strange to note that on a flight of this duration one begins to prepare for arrival with well over an hour of flight time remaining. I suppose all things are relative. As I prepare to stow my laptop, we are one hour out of Johannesburg at 3:25pm Monday, local time, which is 8:25am Monday, Kansas City’s Central Daylight Saving Time. Kansas City seems but clearly isn’t a world away. A world away? That phrase would be reserved for visits to my son Cianán who lives in Bangkok which is directly on the opposite side of the planet from his father’s home. We IM and text (which we did just before B4 and I left) and video chat but the distance is too vast for more than annual touch. Thailand makes South Africa seem close by in comparison.

Posted by paulej4 15:33 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

3. One, Two, Three; That's How Easy It's Gonna Be

bounce and jostle but no complaints

Hoedspruit South Africa, Limpopo, South Africa
Tuesday, August 4, 2015

After dinner last night with Peggy and Tim, brainy physicists that we met at Maritime, it was off to bed for a short night's sleep and continental breakfast with Brenda and Conrad before being picked up by Gino and taken to Joburg's Tambo International Airport to hop our short flight to Hoedspruit.


Beryl's nail scissors have traveled with her on countless domestic and international trips but they were confiscated here. Go figure. Our Priorty Pass memberships got us entry into the fancy Bidvest lounge where we caught up on email while awaiting our 12:30 flight. The South African Airways propellor Dash 8 was not particularly to B4's liking but off we went regardless. She slept most of the way. We're aboard a De Havilland Bombardier DHC-8 400 Series turboprop aircraft known as a "Dash 8" which seats 50 people. Our one hour South African Airways flight goes over the Blyde River Canyon which, we are told, is the third largest canyon in the world. I cannot verify that. The word “Blyde” means “glad” or “happy” in Dutch. The canyon got itsname in 1844 when “voortrekker” Hendrik Potgieter and his party showed up at their destination after their associates had thought them long dead. Everyone was, well, “blyde” to see them.

We arrive at Hoedspruit on time and are blyde to be there.


Pieter picked us up at the Hoedspruit Airport, marched us past the guard monkeys outside and drove us to Billy's Lodge, past impala and elephant to our home for a bit. It's rustic and luxurious and exotic and wonderful. We had no sooner sat down for lunch when we were interrupted by elephants at the watering hole beneath our balcony observatory.


Quickly, we joined our fellow travelers for our first "game ride." We all piled into a rustic open viewing vehicle piloted by Joshua and off we bounced. A rare stork caught the eye of our driver who was animated as he remarked about its protected status. Soon, we came upon a mother and calf giraffe whereupon B4 literally shrieked with excitement. I was reminded of a time, years earlier, when my son did the same thing when we were on safari. When a person who is not easily impressed is impressed, well, it is a wonderful feeling.

On our drive, we bounced and jostled over rough tracks and saw impala, waterbuck, giraffe, warthogs, hippo, an eagle, and, ultimately, after night fell, lions; lots of lions. B4 was slightly afraid of being eaten while we watched the lions. The lioness alternately nursed and cleaned her six month old cubs. baa3ec80-2e83-11ea-9d92-3f7ed73f1262.jpg986830e0-2e83-11ea-9494-3b2a8d7c5c33.jpg99111b10-2e83-11ea-84f1-4977775f689e.jpg990c3910-2e83-11ea-9018-7bbb3d5e3517.jpg99007940-2e83-11ea-b3fb-ff417d552e0b.jpg98fcf6d0-2e83-11ea-9183-a182edc7dd45.jpg98694250-2e83-11ea-b4a3-9b4d3abf0dd3.jpg9867e2c0-2e83-11ea-91f7-771a7a54dcf9.jpg

The afternoon was sublime.

Back to Billy's we had only a few minutes before we were escorted back to the main lodge from our isolated suite. Joining our mates, we ate chicken and beef and vegetables and exotic desserts while enjoying fine South African Sauvignon Blancs. If you think only New Zealanders can make fine SB, take a look at what South Africa is producing. It is every bit as good.

After dinner, we were escorted back to our suite. Why escorted, you ask? Well, it is because we are in the wild. A few nights ago, a leopart entered the compound here. Elephants come in whenever they choose. And, who knows what else we might encounter? We are escorted.9903fbb0-2e83-11ea-a0be-f1e48ed396db.jpg99005230-2e83-11ea-af80-85adc53d04c2.jpg

We will be awakened tomorrow morning at 5:15 so we can join our group for a 5:30 game drive. We'll talk more about that tomorrow.

It was a very good day. Of the "Big Five" we saw three: elephant, giraffe and lion. That is, unless you subscribe to those who say the "Big Five" actually include the rhino rather than the giraffe. In that case, we saw two. The other two or three, cape buffalo, rhino and leopard, we'll go after tomorrow. We are happy. We are in the zoo and we are the ones caged--even if only in the seat of a vehicle. The animals range free, wherever they want to be or to go. It is magical.

Posted by paulej4 15:54 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

4. We Ain't Lion

Giraffe out the window

Hoedspruit, Limpopo, South Africa
Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hoedspruit (Afrikaans for Hat Creek) sits below the Klein Drakensberg (Afrikaans for Small Dragon) mountain range. The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre is here; it breeds cheetah, African wild dogs and black-booted cats. Tourism is the main industry. We landed yesterday at Eastgate Airport which shares the strip with Air Force Base Hoedspruit, home to helicopter 19 Squadron of the South African Air Force. Our Billy's Lodge is a half hour from there.

Afrikaans, by the way, is a language descended from Dutch and spoken both here and in Namibia. You might hear it as far away as Belgium and, certainly, in the Netherlands. It arrived here in 1652 when the Dutch East India Company arrived to engage in commerce. The political history of this place is complex and controversial. We are here not for the purpose of examination of or commentary on the politics and history of South Africa. We're here to see the animals. Our guide speaks English and the local dialect which is used to communicate with our spotter and over the radio to other vehicles so we tourists don't know what they are talking about. When one driver spots lions and alerts the other vehicles, he doesn't use English lest he raise the expectations of the other vehicles' tourists. They would be pretty disappointed if, after their long ride expecting to see lions, they arrived at the spot only to find the cats had moved on. We occasionally see other vehicles but they are not much of a distraction.

From Billy's Lodge this morning, Joshua--our guide--and Conrad--our spotter--loaded us up at 5:45, first light. It wasn't long until Duma introduced us to his pride. large_0aec0730-2e85-11ea-a126-5302ba663e3c.jpglarge_0a2e5c80-2e85-11ea-a0be-f1e48ed396db.jpglarge_0a3b2dc0-2e85-11ea-9494-3b2a8d7c5c33.jpglarge_0a5bd520-2e85-11ea-9018-7bbb3d5e3517.jpglarge_0a3a9180-2e85-11ea-b4a3-9b4d3abf0dd3.jpglarge_0a322d10-2e85-11ea-91f7-771a7a54dcf9.jpglarge_0a336590-2e85-11ea-af80-85adc53d04c2.jpglarge_0a2dc040-2e85-11ea-9018-7bbb3d5e3517.jpgDeep among them, at times no more than ten feet from the cubs and twice that from Duma, we felt our adrenaline rush. We are told not to stand lest we stand out. The point is that lions see us in our open vehicle as a singular inedible unit. Recognized as an individual, one transforms into a meal option. We remain seated.

For the better part of an hour we kept up with this king as he and his queens and court sashayed across the bush en route to what is known as Pride Rock. His pride does. I'll let the photographs do the talking because aboard the Land Rover, we were all speechless.

The ride is bumpy and breezy. Mornings are cold; afternoons are hot. The vehicle is open and our "spotter" rides on a special seat on the left hand corner of the hood; steering wheels are on the right in South Africa. There's a movie down below labeled "We ARE the Shock Absorbers;" play it and ride with us.873d0fd0-2e87-11ea-9884-03b5505b1936.jpg8732af90-2e87-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpg8736a730-2e87-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpg8731ec40-2e87-11ea-8405-f1706046d167.jpg87315000-2e87-11ea-9685-fb9cff6ffe7a.jpg869b2a80-2e87-11ea-91f7-771a7a54dcf9.jpg86997cd0-2e87-11ea-9018-7bbb3d5e3517.jpg

After lunch, I spotted giraffe from our window. We raced to the viewing platform and communed with five of these lanky dancers as they stripped leaves and bark from high tree branches. We loved every moment. Whispering to each other, we were amazed by what we were seeing up so close that we could hear them chewing. They didn't seem to mind our presence and we valued theirs. These quite large animals disappear behind trees. We knew there were five of them out there but, from moment to moment, you could spot only three or four. How they do that, I do not know. You cannot do this is a zoo. large_45906340-2e85-11ea-a0be-f1e48ed396db.jpglarge_45876290-2e85-11ea-9018-7bbb3d5e3517.jpglarge_45613cf0-2e85-11ea-a126-5302ba663e3c.jpglarge_45887400-2e85-11ea-91f7-771a7a54dcf9.jpg

Our evening drive featured buffalo , buck kudu, baboons, hyena and a flat tire. Our sundowner was delayed by our vehicular problem but we were not put off by that. Elephants appeared and Beryl had a close encounter. If you read the EXTRA EXTRA blog entry, you already know about that. c62e57d0-2e87-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpgc624bae0-2e87-11ea-9884-03b5505b1936.jpg

A wine tasting in Billy's cellar preceded our BBQ dinner with native music by the Billy's staff. It is cold tonight. We're exhausted. We're off to bed. In one piece.

Posted by paulej4 16:19 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

5. Rhinos R Us

Safari Walk: B4--"I don't think so."

Billy's Lodge, Limpopo, South Africa
Friday, August 7, 2015

Located on the banks of a "seasonal" river, Billy's is surrounded by a “resident lion pride” and features majestic views of plains game and trees—Knobthorns, Leadwoods and Marulas which are indigenous to this savannah region. Billy’s has four private and quite large luxury suites which encompass a personal lounge, mini-bar, dining area, “super king-size” bed, en-suite bath, indoor and outdoor shower, private plunge pool and private deck. They’ve got quite a wine cellar which is set into a natural rock face reminiscent of a bushman’s cave. Capacity here is a maximum of twelve guests. B4 finds that they do have excellent wifi here. We are both taking a malaria prophylaxis “Doxycycline Hyclate” and are reassured by both the window screens and elegant mosquito nets which envelop the bed. Mosquitos are a problem “mostly” at night, by the way. At this time of year, however, one wonders what all the fuss is about. Mosquitoes, we think, could not make it through the cold nights.

And, there are those (maybe us) who think humans could not make it through the cold morning game drives. But, we have--almost--the right clothes and woolen blankets to surround us. Off we trundle and within five minutes we encounter a lone bull elephant. He feeds while keeping an eye on us. As he creeps closer he is calm. As we move closer to him he is agitated. We retreat.

Our goal for the morning offers very low odds of success. We've seen everything we came to see except for two species: leopard and rhinocerus. Rhino have not been seen in several days and we have repeatedly had our expectations for a rhino sighting reduced by Josh's comments. One never wins without trying, however, and that's our target.

Along the way we encounter a herd of zebra, our first close-up look at these striped donkeys. They are skittish in the way a wild horse would be but we stop and get an eyeful.

Driving onward, our spotter, Conrad, raises his hand and speaks in Zulu (I think) to Josh who stops our Range Rover. Looking at the dusty road in front, they both are on heightened alert. New-hire trainee Ashley is told to mind the group while Conrad and Josh head off into the bush. A second Ezulwini vehicle from River Lodge appears. Spotter and guide from that Rover join our leaders and the four of them are off into the scrub. Within five minutes, fired up, they are all running back to the vehicles. Engines too are fired up and off we race. edc545a0-2e88-11ea-b9d5-bf2a7fe490d2.jpgedc63000-2e88-11ea-be2b-171a91639cbc.jpgedbe67d0-2e88-11ea-93ed-4b27a7791a4f.jpgedc2fbb0-2e88-11ea-a07e-51b9e63eec92.jpg

Within a couple of minutes I spot an outline at our three o'clock position that isn't "natural." It's a rhino. Then, it's two. We move forward as does the other vehicle and a third that has appeared from somewhere. At first this pair is obscured, then partially obscured and then in the open for us to see. Everyone is thrilled. These are southern white rhino, the most abundant in Africa with the last census estimating a population of just over 20,000. The other species, the black rhino, is more endangered with a population estimated to be less than 5,000 in the world. The two are not really of different color. White rhino are larger and have a flat broad mouth rather than the pointed mouth black rhino use for picking up twigs to eat.

There is no way we can get close to these skittish characters so we must be satisfied from afar. B4 has a video that you'll want to see.

White rhino like these weigh from 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. They would be abundant were it not for poachers who slaughter them for their keratin horns (keratin is similar to the protein that makes up human hair and fingernails) which are sold on the black market in Asia, primarily Viet Nam for a per ounce price greater than gold. A rhino horn from here can be sold for more than a quarter million dollars in Viet Nam. African rhino, both black and white, have two horns so there is more to sell. Poachers are shot on sight in most of southern Africa. But, here in South Africa, research shows that 333 were killed in 2010, 668 in 2012 and over 1,000 more were slaughtered in 2013. The battle is being lost.

For us, seeing these creatures is a special treat. We linger not long enough. You can feel the electricity in the air here where real electricity is miles distant. Our goal achieved, we retreat to leave these unique creatures in peace.edbc6c00-2e88-11ea-86e6-35b380b3c75c.jpgedc45b40-2e88-11ea-a8bf-1dc1ddf69dd8.jpgedc322c0-2e88-11ea-a2be-790bbe372733.jpgedb56720-2e88-11ea-9fba-a55a90397d5d.jpgedbe67d0-2e88-11ea-8fa0-45785aac0be0.jpgedc01580-2e88-11ea-a163-39eaf456a438.jpged218b90-2e88-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpged23d580-2e88-11ea-91f7-771a7a54dcf9.jpged316a10-2e88-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpged1e7e50-2e88-11ea-8405-f1706046d167.jpged1c5b70-2e88-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpgc62e57d0-2e87-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpg

Soon we stop in a nearby clearing for coffee and Amarula (South African Cream Liquer made from the marula fruit) and are joined by the two other vehicles which shared in our rhino viewing. Stories are swapped and soon we are off to return to Billy's Lodge. Along the way, Conrad (who does not excite) becomes animated. Josh slams on the brakes. Conrad, Josh and Ashley all kneel in front of our Range Rover and new excitement is apparent. They have found cheetah tracks.

We do not find these beautiful creatures and no one is surprised as they are very rare here. We are disappointed only a tiny bit. How could one feel let down after our commune with the rhino? We learn about termite mounds. They are like icebergs with just a bit of themselves visible above ground. They are not considered bad things around here but, perhaps, that's because there are no houses.

Back to the lodge, we order big breakfasts and, while we wait, a bull elephant visits the water hole beneath our viewing platform. We watch him drink while our breakfast is being readied. The eggs may as well be fried because our senses surely are. It's been a morning to remember.

After breakfast I write on this blog and Beryl attacks the non-native creature that has been stalking us: email. At 1:30, we join Josh for a "safari walk," something B4 was hesitant to undertake. What if there are dangerous beasts about? Josh promises to scout our route before we go and, overcoming trepidation, Beryl agrees. It is great fun. We see lots of tracks: impala, giraffe, elephant and, Josh tells us, black rhino (which we did not know existed nearby). We learn of poison trees and elephant habitat destruction and species overpopulation, hunting, culling and more. Seeing "The Lion King" only gives you the basics, it seems.

Lunch follows: lasagna, salad, squash, tomato and olives galore. We are joined by travelers newly arrived from River Lodge so we ask questions to see what is in store for us tomorrow. edb56720-2e88-11ea-9fba-a55a90397d5d.jpg

The afternoon drive departs promptly at 3:30. We're onto a bull elephant and his boys right away. They are having a fine time destroying a patch of dried vegetation gaining nutrients for themselves while, unfortunately, totally messing up what would otherwise be--when the rains come--beautiful foliage. The elephant problem here is complex and I don't know enough about it to comment other than to lament. Here's a quiz:

We drive on and spot not much. There's a rare bird, according to Josh so I click. Do you know what this bird is? I don't. Soon, the sun is ready to set and we adjourn for sundowners--a nice SA SB. We're happy.At dinner later, we're joined by an elephant who gets something caught in his teeth; no worry, we have an elephant toothpick.

That last sentence is not accurate but its the only way I know to see if you actually read this far.

Tomorrow, after our morning game drive, we move from Billy's to River Lodge. We hear that the monkeys there are a riot. We'll let you know. We hope you are having fun reading this; we're having fun living and writing it.

Posted by paulej4 16:24 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

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