Tag Archives: Safari

Look at my Jeans. Eastern Cape, South Africa.

2 Jan

December 15, 2010

It’s 6:30 am. I’m riding Starlight, a chestnut horse, through a game reserve only a few miles from the Indian Ocean. I’m working on a horse ranch as a volunteer. Meaning, I take tourists on beach and non-dangerous, animal game rides via horseback.

This morning we have a honeymoon couple, approaching the age of 20.  One still has a year left of University.  The other, just graduated. They are blissfully unaware that it is raining, foggy and frigging freezing.

We are sauntering down a hill. At the bottom, my horse picks up the pace into a trot to gain momentum to go up the hill. It’s muddy. Slick. Like clay mud. There’s a hole. I think you know the rest.  My horse trips and falls over. Yep, rolls on me.  We’re only day 2 of my 2 week working horse riding holiday.

Starlight rolls on the bottom part of my leg. My foot is still in the stirrup. My mind is not racing. It’s just there. Watching the horse roll on my leg like an outside observer. The horse pops up. My foot slides out of the stirrup. And, I’m laying there in mud.  I look down.  All I can think about is my jeans. I have one pair. They are wrecked. I now have nothing to wear.

My next thought, thankfully, leads to my physical and mental, not fashion, condition… “did I break something…sprain something…and pain is not part of the Christmas plan…”

I look down again.  My leg and ankle are turned sideways, set in 4 inches of clay mud.  I  start to talk to my ankle.. “OK, what are we doing…We’re good, right?”

Meanwhile, Alex, the Venice Gondola driver and other volunteer, had jumped off her horse.  She’s now leaning over me, shouting at me in a thick Italian accent, “Roll on back…breath.” I think, “Roll on my back? Are you out of your mind? Have you seen my jeans?  No more mud, thank you!!”

I ignored her demands and opted to pry my ankle from the grime.  My ankle responded.  Then, I flexed my knee muscles.  Looked like no permanent damage. Just major soreness. I mean a 600 kilo horse just rested it’s torso on my leg.

I stood up.  My hip felt out of joint. Or, something was pulled there. Hell, every muscle on my right side just got a good stretch.  I walked.  Limped. And, looked around. Yep, no helicopter or car rescue here. Time to get back on the horse.

Meanwhile, the honeymoon couple just ogled at each other. I could be decapitated and they would not have noticed. Man, romantic lust has its advantages.

Starlight and I slowly meandered forward. It felt much better to be on the horse, than to walk. Not a good sign. We continue through the game reserve, walking past giraffes, zebras, and all types of antelope I can’t pronounce.  And, all I can think about are my jeans. Whose going to wash my jeans…

Welcome to day 2 of my horse riding holiday.

Who are these people? Eastern Cape, South Africa.

2 Jan

Mom asked, “honey, now who are these people you’ll be spending Christmas with? I need to know…”

Well, where to begin. To sum it up, they are amazing, entertaining, surprising and touching.  Try dedicated, hard working, inspiring and loyal. Most of all, they are kind and generous with their time, their love for animals, and with their heart. I feel truly blessed to be spending my holidays with them.

Julie-Ann and, her husband Clint, both manage Wild Coast Adventures. It’s the Eastern Cape’s leading travel/tour adventure company, giving tourists a full-on African experience whether you’re looking to hunt, fish or do overnight safaris on horseback and day rides along the Indian Ocean or thru private game reserves.

Sunray Farms is the name of the actual horse farm, where Julie-Ann cares for, trains, breeds about 60 horses. Sunray accepts short and long term volunteers year round.  That’s me!

As for volunteers, there’s Roz and Alex. And, Amanda – or Tiny Tito – is the full time Sunray employee, responsible for day-to-day horse riding tours. Julie-Ann also has a full time staff of local tribe people who manage the farm, house and “everything” else.

Roz is a career nomad. And, super cool! Alex and I told her she is “360 degrees perfect.”

Not sure what it means, but Alex said in Italy it means “super cool!” I went along with it. Roz has worked around horses all her life – from training race horses to foals. She works in the UK for about 6 months and earns enough money to spend the blizzardy time of year working with animals, whether it is horses in South Africa or Pumas in Peru. She’s the glue that held us together.

Alex is an interesting character. She will be upset I’m even writing her name in a blog. But, she is FAMOUS! She’s the ONLY female gondola driver in all of Venice. That’s right. The only one.

She has her own boat and works with the top hotels in Venice. The rich and famous all seek her out when they visit. She says, “There are over 170 canals in Venice. I get the stars lost without problem…” She pops cow-boy killers (Marlboro Reds) like they are candy corn and took to drinking beer, instead of wine. Of course, she has that Italian style and attitude that goes along with it. She’s ridden since she’s a child and decided, out of boredom, to take the horseback riders instructors license and passed. She’s a fab rider and loves telling me, the American girl, what to do. Lots of stories to tell.

Little Tiny Tito – aka Amanda – is around 20 years old. Loves to ride. And, loves to party. I remember those days of staying out until 3 am, waking at 6 am for work and not even being phased. She’s that girl. The three of us would watch in “awe.” She has her own horse, Donatello, who she tumbled over in a river during our charity ride. It was hysterical since she survived. Bummer if not. I share a room with her. Really, its a loft. The best is we’re so damn tired after a day of work and riding, that lights go out around 8:30 pm. That is if she’s not out…. Lots of stories to tell…

The five or six or seven Russel Terriers are next on the list. Russel terriers are the “must” have farm dog in South Africa. They are everywhere! Julie-Ann’s dogs are named after.. guess? Yep, Disney characters. So, I felt right at home.

There’s blind Mickey Mouse. Horse kicked him in one eye. The other eye got infected. There’s cancer ridden Donald Duck. Then, needy Mini-Mouse. There’s Junior, with so many indescribable aliments. A terrier called Tabitha and another random dog, whose name I forgot. Bella is the sheep, herding dog that nips at horses feet. All of them lived at our volunteer house. And, all of them have a lot of hair.

I will only give a mention to the ticks, fleas, flies, spiders, lizards, millipedes, beatles, flying thingies and other creepy crawlies living with us…

Say hello to my 2010 Christmas family!

African Safari. Timbavati, Kruger National Park. South Africa.

2 Jan

December 6 – 12, 2011

Safari server, “What would you like to drink for the safari?”

Me: “Ommmm… I guess whatever? I mean, what do you have?”

Safari server: “We have anything you want – coke, wine, gin, vodka, beer, whiskey….

Me: “Oh, I will just have water…”

Safari server: “It’s included. It’s free….”

Me: “Change that. It’s gin. Gin and tonic! Better, yet, I will have both – the South African booze and a Gin and Tonic…Is that ok???”

Welcome to my first African Safari.

I have not had hard liquor since Russia – stuck with beer or rice wine for you know what you’re getting. If you order vodka in communist Asia, they more than likely to water it down or just pour tonic water, insisting liquor is floating in there. My word, it feels good to be back to civilization…

Back to a place where people know how to pour a good drink…

Made it to Johannesburg. Jumped in a car and drove six hours to Timbavati, a private game reserve part of Kruger National Park. Staying in a hut with no electricity and an outside shower encased by tall bamboo sticks. Very happy. I arrived yesterday after lunch, just in time for the afternoon wild animal look and see.

Room at the Tambavati Lodge at Kruger Ntl Park

There are ten of us at the lodge – or camp – called Umlani Bushcamp. Two teachers and three students from Durban, South Africa. A couple from Mozambique. An American from Philadelphia. And, me. We loaded into the safari Land Rover with no roof with our guide Moses and animal trekker Hendrick and off we went in search of the big five – elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards and hippos. There are many other animals, but those are the Big five. Right now, I would be happy seeing a domestic cat or dog. Take that back. I’m actually more keen on sipping a gin and tonic.

We rode for 30 mins or so and came across a pack of buffalo. One female and three males. Looked calm. Like you can pet them. Moses said he is most scared of the buffalo and elephant, out of all the animals. WHAT? What about the lion? He said with buffalo they are viscous. Buffalo? Like of the cow family? I took another look at them – and said, “ok, you are going into my fearful animals category.”

Next, we spotted a heard of elephants with their babies. One baby elephant was born 5 days ago. So micro-mini. Found out the hard way, elephants charge you. Charge cars. Especially, younger males who are asserting their power. Scared the be-jezus out of me.

First time, we were charged, we were sitting still and pretty observing a male elephant with one tusk. He was eating. Watching us. Walking a little closer. Eating some more.

I’m thinking, “come closer..want a better photo.” Think Jurassic Park.

Moses said he wants to sniff us. They have poor eyes, and sense things via nose and vibrations/hearing. He waddles closer. Lifts up his trunk. Raises his hears. Snorts loud and runs for us. I freeze. Moses keeps talking like “no big deal.” And, then he stops a few feet from the car. Shows us his butt and saunters to a tree to continue his eating. This is not funny. Moses says this happens all the time. He is just telling us he’s boss. I think, “Let’s get out of here…”

Then, we encountered a heard of 20 elephants grazing together. We pulled up in the middle and stopped our engine. Not feeling all the calm, especially with 5 day old baby. Mama and her girlfriends are not going to like us getting close.

Actually, the mother and baby came up to the car and paid us no attention. It was the teen male elephants that had to bang their chests and snort at us. Typical. Man or elephant egos…all the same.

We saw a bunch of Impala – like Antelope and giraffe. Took many pictures of the giraffe for we are both very tall creatures. We stopped for a break. Next thing I know, Moses is using the hood as a mini-bar. A bottle of gin. Wine. Beer. Sodas. And, some buffalo tongue. I’m in heaven. Sipped on my beverage and began bonding with the group.

The three young students are between eleven and twelve and attend a private school. They are traveling with their Afrikaner language and History teacher – Ms. T and Ms. A. And, yes, Ms. T and Ms. A were the first in line for their double gin and tonics. Wish they were my teachers..

The girls were hyper. Had a lot of pent of energy. By their second cocktail, Ms. T and Ms. A said it was time for relay races with elephant dung. ELEPHANT POO? I told them, “we don’t do this in Florida..” First game was, whoever found the most petrified Elephant Dung, won. They had 30 seconds. Next game was spitting dung. Not sure what type of dung for it was smaller and round. Whoever spit the dung the farthest, won. I wanted to gag.

The last game was charades. Music was the topic. Ms. T and Ms. A went for songs like Footloose, Thriller, Heart Break Hotel by Elvis, Hold my Hand by the Beatles…

The girls pulled songs from Miley Sirus, Justin B and Taylor Swift. I know these young pop stars are intentional sensations, but here I am in Kruger National Park watching South African teens go crazy over these three highly annoying pop singers. It felt surreal. I think more surreal than spitting dung for fun.

We came back to camp, inhaled beef, drank more, sat around the fire and passed out to loud bull frogs by 10 pm. Got a knock at 5 am for the morning safari. Within 20 mins, we’re back out looking for the big five.

It rained the night before, so our tracker was trackless. That did not stop us. About an hour later, we spotted three lionesses napping with their cubs. No men in sight. They were all relaxed and mellow for they had a kill earlier -either in the night or the other day.

Moses said they were no threat to us. ARE YOU KIDDING? They are female lions. And, we are in an open air car. Elephants can charge. But, lions can pounce. We moved on to more eagles, giraffes, antelope, lizards, rodents, random birds, beatles eating dung, baboons, monkeys, and elephants. No need for coffee.

That afternoon, is when we scored big. Hit the big five. Lions, Leopards, Hippo, Elephant. And, Buffalo. We also got to peek at Wild Dogs, Random Birds, Snakes, Lizards, Hyenas, Bamboos and more. What a good day…

The male lions made me nervous. There were 3 brothers who just killed a buffalo. They were ‘fighting’ – I mean FIGHTING – for the food.

Made me uncomfortable for we are food too. But overall, it gives you a greater appreciate of animals and a deeper understanding of how much we are like them – or they like us…

Click on the photo icon with the name African Safari for some more picture fun.