beddingBefore I left for our family’s trip to South Africa, a neighbor asked me where we were going.  “Africa.”  I said.  “Oh, how exciting!  Where?” she said. “South Africa.” I answered. “Oh, so not really Africa, then.” she answered.  Well, yes really Africa.  Unless you think Africa only means grass huts in the wilderness.  South Africa exemplifies Africa: beautiful, full of contradictions, unpredictable, surprisingly sophisticated, excitingly wild.

livingareaAfter our stay in Cape Town, we traveled to the Makalali Conservancy in the Mpumalanga region of Northern South Africa on a private reserve near Kruger National Park, called Garonga.

sinksGaronga exudes a kind of Earnest Hemingway – just grab a spot of tea on your way to hunt big game – vibe.  Slightly war-worn, but charming nonetheless.  We were miraculously upgraded to a suite.  And here, I will let the pictures speak for themselves:

I know it all looks very posh.  But let me point out that there were beetles the size of baseballs on the porch at night, lizards falling from the ceiling, and that some small animals not only ate the lovely welcome basket of fruit the hotel had kindly left,but also left us several stinky little “deposits” in their wake. 

bathtubStill, there was a warmth and shabby charm about the place.  And our local guide, Moussa, and tracker Pesi, seemed to see every track and every animal.

Again – pictures can say it better than I can.  But know that those pictures of the standing lions are NOT all that zoomed in.  We were no more than six feet away from them. And yes, I was scared. And boy, was I glad to find out after we saw them that they were on their way to a kill.  That they did, indeed, kill an Impala moments after walking uncomfortably close to our open jeep, and that another group on Safari watched them eat it. Yuck.

lionesselephant

To be quite frank I’ve never been a huge animal enthusiast, so the thought of six hours a day (one game drive from 6am-9am and another from 4-7pm, made me wish for a shopping spree along Spring Street, where the only animals are the tacky tourists dripping ice-cream on their hands and then handling the designer duds.  But each day, we saw something different.  A baboon doing somersaults, giraffes entwining necks, herds of zebra and impala crossing the road.  And suddenly, the animals were fascinating indeed. Besides, with each new sighting, my kids would get so excited, and nothing beats that.

Not even a sale in SoHo.