Tourism: A beautiful, perfect trip to Africa

It’s 6 a.m., the sun is just about to break on the horizon, and the land is covered in a blanket of mist. This is our last game drive; our guide Jesse and the tracker Moses mumble in Afrikaans in a very worried tone. Perhaps they know it would be impossible to spot any wildlife in this condition. That would be a big problem for us. I mean, we can’t be in Africa and not see a male lion, right? That’s supposed to be the point of all this, to see the lion with its glorious mane, to hear it roar, and watch it saunter like the king that it is.
It was a long journey from Manila, and after a couple stopovers in Hong Kong and Johannesburg and endless movies in between sleep, we finally landed in our first destination: Victoria Falls. We were booked at the Victoria Falls Hotel, which was built in 1904 originally to house engineers that were building the nearby bridge.
The old world feel is kept intact, from the décor to the color palette of the fabrics and staff uniforms. We were planning to rest in the room until we wandered out into the terrace and saw the view: the precise parabolic arch of the bridge juxtaposed against the billows of cloudy mist rising from the gorge, the muffled thundering of the falls provided an adequate soundtrack for the astonishing sight. Goodbye, siesta.
The following day, we went on a walking tour, and being on the side of Zimbabwe, the walking path we were to take faced the falls.
We had been warned that it was peak water season, which meant approximately 625 million liters of waterfall off the edge every minute, and we would be drenched. Not taking this lightly, we put on our heavy-duty ponchos and started the trek. Within 15 minutes into the walk, the cute little puffs of mist that we saw from the hotel became these droplets of water and wind that seemingly pushed from all sides, especially as we approached the edge facing the waterfalls. It was beautiful from afar, but up close it was powerful, thunderous, almost violent. The next couple of hours were pretty intense, and gave us the strongest adrenaline rush we would probably ever have from a leisurely paced walk. And, of course, despite the thick waterproof ponchos, we were soaking wet.
The powerful experience from the waterfalls and views from the nearby gorge complemented the comforts of the hotel, providing a balance between adventure and refinement. This was our relaxing routine for a couple of days, but before we knew it, we had to pack up and fly off to Cape Town.
We got in at Cape Town in the evening and dozed off with the curtains drawn. The following morning, we woke up to a pink sky and commanding views of Table Mountain right outside our window.
This huge chunk of rock loomed over and owned the entire vista. We spent the following days dancing around this mountain, from the scenic drive around the Cape of Good Hope, passing by Boulders Beach to see the colony of very adorable penguins, to exploring the picturesque vineyards of Franscchoek and Stellenbosch, where we sat under oak trees and sampled wine selections.
This laidback vibe permeates the atmosphere and defines the lifestyle and cuisine of the region. Our days were spent eating in restaurants serving market-fresh food, driving through scenic routes, and strolling around the city, taking in its multicultural heritage. Five days flew past, and once again, we were packing our luggage to head out to the highlight of our trip — the safari.
It was a short 50-minute flight from Cape Town to Skukuza airport, which services the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, located in the Southwestern portion of Kruger National Park. Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised by the design philosophy of the airport, exuding a resort appeal rather than a typical bland airport.
It had the feel of a safari lodge, which we later discovered upon getting to the lodge itself after a 30-minute drive in the brush. The lodge, Little Bush Camp, consisted of six private villas, provided amenities well beyond the normal, each with a hot tub on the balcony, and offered so much privacy that the villas have outdoor showers. In the style of low-impact architecture, the villas seem like they were dropped in the middle of the brush. The interiors reflect African culture and local nature, which give it a firm sense of place.
We quickly changed into our muted-colored clothes, grabbed a quick snack, and rode on our first game drive. Looking back, I think we should have said goodbye to reality as well.
The bush, as Africans call it, is undeveloped land with no trace of technology, human habitation or cultivation, and thus, with no markers of any era, it seems suspended in time. The dirt road, the only evidence of humans, could have been a dirt road yesterday or 200 years ago. This landscape was as raw as it could get.
Our tracker, Moses, sat on a chair in front of the open vehicle to spot the animals with his sharp eyes and keen sense of smell and our guide Jesse was behind the wheel, giving us bits of information about the wildlife we encountered. And boy, there was a lot of wildlife. We encountered a herd of impalas and kudus within a few minutes after we drove out of the lodge’s premises.
Not soon after, we chanced on a number of cape buffalo in a pond, trying to cool off from the afternoon heat, with Oxpecker birds feasting on the fleas on their skin. Then came a parade of elephants with mighty tusks, and towards sundown, a graceful giraffe feeding on small trees, basking in the warm glow of the sky. We were heading back to the lodge when we encountered a pride of female lions and some cubs languidly moving to a watering hole and lapping up the water like kittens. It was a beautiful sight and we could have watched for hours, but our stomachs were grumbling and we continued on back home and had a delicious dinner to cap off the perfect day.
The days flew by so fast, riding in our vehicle, being greeted in the morning by exotic animals, an elegant cheetah perched on a fallen tree, chirping technicolor birds on top of shrubs, and in afternoons, leopards hanging out in the grass, jackals peeking out from the plains, rhinos and elephants mostly always chomping on plants, panicky warthogs running about, and hippos playing in the water.
There would be moments when Jesse would pull off to the side of the road and pick up an animal and provide very interesting facts… a giant millipede once, later a chameleon (how they spot them escapes me) and a three-meter python. And yes, he did attempt to pick it up by pulling on the tail, and well, let’s just say the python wasn’t too happy about it. We saw the Big 5 — African lion, African leopard, African elephant, Cape buffalo and rhino — within 24 hours and saw much more than we expected as the days went by. It was never boring, each drive being completely different from the rest. But so far, no sign of a lion with a mane, the “king of the jungle.”
As the rays of the sun finally burn the mist and clear the landscape, we slowly start accepting the possibility that we won’t be seeing the elusive male lion. We can’t complain: the weather was pleasant throughout our trip, the staff and all lodgings were impeccable, the food from Victoria Falls to Cape Town all the way to Sabi Sands was mouthwatering, and the scenery nothing short of glorious.
We were ready to get back to the lodge, pack our things, and upload our last wildlife pictures on Instagram. It’d been a beautiful trip.
Suddenly, we hear Jesse yell: “Lions, male lions!”
So then, yeah, it becomes a beautiful, and a perfect, trip.
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