As a travel writer, you either go with the flow or sink. Adventure becomes second nature. I’ve crawled through tunnels in Vietnam, stayed overnight in a ‘renovated’ cave in Spain. In Sarawak, witnessed 6 million nocturnal bats clinging to the interior ceiling of one of the world’s biggest and oldest caves where the smell could knock you for a loop. I’m on a soft adventure kick and I’ve discovered that there is a vast variety of themes.
One of the most unique experiences was my few days at a private game/lodge reserve in South Africa. Singita, means ‘the Miracle” and within my short time there, I believed it was just that.
Located near the renowned Kruger National Park, the majesty of the accommodations and the animals that roamed freely made this the photo opportunity of a lifetime combined with an awesome experience. Singita Game Reserve, is a member of the prestigious hotel rating Relais and Chateaux and on the Sabi Sand Reserve, a 155,000 acre nature conservancy adjacent to Kruger National Park . It may just ruin other hotels forever with attention to detail, service with a great big smile, the view and nature..
I stayed at Ebony Lodge where the 9 double suites are Architectural Digest beautiful. The other section, the more contemporary, The Boulders Lodge was equally sumptuous, again with only 9 suites. The large spaces, in both lodges, include a glassed in bathroom with a glass shower that allows you a view of the giant ebony trees. And if by good luck, a roaming cheetah or lion were to pass, just a glance out at the African bushveld would make it a memorable stay. The outdoor shower, the chaise longues on the private patio are wonderful perks to this great mixture of leisure, glamour, grandeur and the animal kingdom nearby.
After the first early morning safari, while I had breakfast on the terrace of the main building of the Colonial styled Ebony Lodge, there was the soft sound of gently flowing water. Sand River was just below. At the next table were newlyweds on their honeymoon from Kuwait. It wasn’t unusual for guests to compare notes – a score card of the animal watching ‘buffet’ that we were served to us via safari, twice a day.
At five-o clock each morning, Frank would knock on the door. This was my wake up call for the day’s first safari. Our ranger Lee, a Robert Redford look-alike, and Reckson, our Shangaan tracker, kept repeating how very fortunate our Land Rover occupants were. Impalas soon became ho-hum since there are so many and so visible – the plat du jour for the more aggressive animals. Nonchalant about these svelte, graceful animals, we now wanted bigger and better. A giraffe was gorging on leaves, with its elegant neck stretching for higher branches. Shortly afterwards, a Cliff Springer did just that. The wish list continued with a Wildebeest and her baby calf, a few Bull Elephants and the unimaginable – a wild dog. “We hardly ever see them,” Lee insisted. I recounted our advantage to my new Kuwaiti friends. They too, had had great luck. How is it possible, I questioned? Well, it was conveyed to me, that with the newest technology, whenever there’s a sighting, the guides, via car radio, relay the news to a sort of animal central. Once I was in on the secret, I innocently suggested that photographing an elephant would be great, or maybe a zebra. Singita is so well organized. Besides, as one guest told me, “for the amount we’re paying they have to show us a full complement of animals”.
In the evening, after the last safari of the day and after dinner, Frank, flashlight in hand, took me back to my suite (this escorting is a mandatory safety measure for all guests). I fell asleep to the sound of growling of some not-so-far-off beasts and the croaking of frogs, which even I was actually able to identify with my limited knowledge of the animal kingdom. Awakening to trickling water from the private outdoor plunge pool, made the early morning get-up and rise, easier. The sun hadn’t yet come up. Reckson, the tracker, sat out on the special seat on the car’s hood. Only when we got close to certain animals like a lion or cheetah, did he climb inside our open vehicle. My appetite to see more animals was in conflict with my desire to spend time in my wonderful quarter. That morning, a lioness passed our car, so closely, that I could have reached out and touched her. The rhinos were wallowing in the mud near a man made lake and zebras nuzzled each other. The Torchwood and Marula trees have their share of bird life adding color to this already rainbow palette. A red billed Qwelea fluttered off, as did the very fashionably colored Lilac Breasted Roller.
The honeymooners were keen hikers and spent the afternoon on a guided nature trail. I was happy to experience the calm of my room where so the owners so cleverly had placed a container with paintbrushes, paper and watercolors. It might not have compared with trekking but trying to paint the huge clay pots with lush cacti that sat on the deck, was another challenge. Evening and Frank, flashlight in hand, guided me to the Boma where the young chef, Darren, had prepared a groaning board including Ostrich neck ragout and maize with the area’s special tomato sauce (for those with special dietary needs, Darren also told me that the game reserve will fly in sealed containers of kosher food direct from Cape Town) This open top, enclosed-sided arena under the Southern Cross was the stage also for some of the staff who performed their native Shangaan dances and songs. Everyone glowed in the candlelight. By now I had amassed rolls of film.
The next morning, Frank came but this time for my luggage as we left from Singita Private Game Reserve to Skukuza air strip, where the SA Express flight was ready to take us to Johannesburg and them home where I knew the first thing I would do was to have my films developed. The journey of giraffes, the dazzle of zebras, the troop of monkeys, pride of lions, clan of hyenas, raft of hippos, parliament of owls. I had the lingo down pat and photos to prove it.