safari, for starters

Dearest ______,

It’s hard trying to tell you about my recent trip to South Africa, just because it could possibly have been the most amazing of my life, so far:  the passing of beloved global peace icon Nelson Mandela; or hanging out- chilling, as the locals would say- at the coolest (some, quite frankly and proudly, hipster) places unexpected in this side of the world; or driving for 400 kilometers and getting very lost at the top of a dangerous mountain pass ominously called Bain’s Kloof Pass; or personally seeing remnants of the shit storm that was the Apartheid system; or eating great food (“Some of the best meat in the world!”, so exclaimed my companion the carnivore); or drinking some of the world’s best beers and wines for a fraction of whatever we pay for, here in Singapore; or getting robbed of 400 African Rand and 300 Singapore Dollars inside our very own hotel room (yes, sir!); or seeing all that staggering natural beauty synonymous with the African wild; but of course…


What is the African experience without seeing its famous “Big 5”?  There’s so much to say about amazing South Africa, and with that latter note,  I shall begin to try telling you about it.

“Big 5” is what they call the most famous animals indigenous to Africa’s countless deserts, bushes, and Karoos  (what they call a semi- desert natural area in South Africa) .  “Five” consists of the African Elephant, the Rhinoceros, the Cape Buffalo, the Lion, and the Leopard.  If only to get as much from our first trip there, of course we had to see them too.  Kruger Park is supposedly the best place to see them in the whole continent, but it’s closest to Johannesburg (and too far from where we actually were).  There are a good number of “Game Reserve” venues closer to Cape Town, though.  And since we were going to be based in Cape Town for the most part, we did research on these other choices instead (read many reviews, more importantly) and decided on doing the safari experience at the Inverdoorn Game Reserve and Safari Lodge, a mere  3- hour drive away from Cape Town’s center.   More on the 3- hour drive (which inexplicably turned into an adventure in itself, taking us a total of 5 hours to actually get there), and more on the lovely Inverdoorn Lodge resort later as well.  For now, the safari.

Each day, they have two 2- hour drives out unto the reserve. One at the crack of dawn (around 5:30AM) and the other at dusk (around 4:00PM). The animals are said to be more visible during these times of the day.  And I can only imagine the cold at night.  At those two times we drove out in a 4×4, the dry Karoo winds made for about 12-15 degrees Celsius.  It was even chillier whenever the jeep moved against those winds.
This is us, getting our caffeine fix at 5:00 or so in the morning, while waiting for the open- sided jeep to take us from the resort out unto the reserve. From experience the night before this, we’d already found out how cold it could be out in the African bush. While they have blankets in the jeep, we opted to wear long- sleeved sweaters and scarves to protect us from both severe sun and cold. Weird combination, but it really was like that out in the Karoo.
This was our trusty 4×4 jeep.

Right outside the gates of the 10,000 hectare reserve, this sign is to ward off possible Rhino- horn poachers about the poison injected into those horns, making them un-sellable. Like the plight of many creatures around the world today, the Rhinoceros is slowly becoming extinct (500 die in South Africa alone, annually) because thieves kill them solely for their horns. Inverdoorn is adamant in the protection of these prehistoric- looking, beautiful animals by treating them this way to dissuade many a thieves and murderers out there.
This is pretty much how most of us looked, while driving around the open Karoo. Very sunny, and still very cold.
That’s Christo Viljoen facing us aboard the jeep- Inverdoorn’s Farm Supervisor, RhinoProtect’s Manager, and also, our very cool safari guide for two days.
Here’s Christo, passionately telling us about nature and its many minute and huge wonders…
… like these trees called the Acacia Karroo or Sweet Thorn.  A lowly tree that quickly evolved into a thorny death trap, for all the animals that kept on eating it.  Survival at its finest.
It was exhilarating when we could step out of the jeep to meander around and get closer to the safer animal species.  We felt legitimately like wild life explorers, walking around and talking about things all around us.
This is a herd of African Oryx. The straight, sharp horns can mangle even their fiercest predators if they foolishly chose to charge.
This is a herd of African Springbok (an antelope- gazelle) .  Very nimble prancers.
One of Africa’s “Big 5” – the Cape Buffalo. Also known as the “Black Death”.  Christo says when you look them in the eyes, it always seems like you owe them some money.  See how this big fella above doesn’t look amused.
While this herd of Cape Buffalos is more reminiscent of a peace- loving album cover in the 1960’s (that’s John, Ringo, Paul, and George crossing the Karoo), in actual fact, these animals are known to have killed the most people in Africa.   They don’t call them the “Black Death” for nothing.
Just an ostrich running about, with the sky, the mountains, and the flatlands beyond.
These are two African White Rhinos. They are not siamese twins, but the daughter (left) just kept sticking beside her mother.  We checked the trading of Rhino horns online and saw that a guy who had been collecting them for the past few decades could actually sell his 5 horns for close to 1.5 Million Dollars!  No wonder people have been after these poor creatures for so long.  This website  is Inverdoorn’s initiative to fight all this unlawful killing.
We were asked to touch this dry, grassy ball right before Christo mentioned that it was, in fact, a Rhino’s dried poo.  All it needed was some dressing, and it could’ve been a fairly organic dish.
This is how the mother Rhinoceros looked. Rock solid and very stately. The horn had been partially cut off before Inverdoorn rescued it and adopted it into the reserve.  She lathers her skin with mud to repel insects from clinging unto her.  Mud is also to fight off the desert heat.  Cape buffalos do the same thing with mud, apparently.
This is the male Lion, hiding under a shady tree. Christo says Lions have a reputation in the human world as being the “King of the Jungle”, when in fact, he’s pretty much indolent and just lazying about in real life.
He waits for the lionesses to 1) mate with them at most 52 times a day and 2) come back from their hunt to feed him first (before cubs and themselves). What a man.  This photo was taken right before we got the shock of our lives as above Lion charged our vehicle.  There were a couple of scavenger birds squaking and fighting over some meat right behind the jeep.  This annoyed the King, and hence it proceeded to charge at the birds and us for a few meters.
The Hippopotamus is mostly asleep during the day and is submerged in water because the sun hurts its skin. That explains the two floating heads we saw at the lake, like so.
These are the two male elephants currently taken care of inside the reserve.  Like the Rhino’s horns, elephants’ ivory tusks are also a common poaching target.
This cheeky elephant also went after our Jeep and stopped in the middle of the dirt road so we could not go back the same way out. We had to call Inverdoorn’s resident elephant whisperer to get the prankster out of the way.
Lovely fur on the cheetah’s back.
This is as regal as cats get, I think.
They can run up to 120km/hr every 700 meters. We actually saw one shoot out of the woodwork. Fast as a car.
One of my favorites inside the reserve was the Zebra. They seriously looked like ponies. French ponies, with the stripes and all.
Christo mentioned that Zebras’ stripes are not for nothing. Its main predator, the Lion, apparently sees only in black and white. To confuse the cats when out hunting them, the zebras stick together, as stripes upon stripes upon stripes hide the individual zebras within that striped cluster, making them appear as though they are constantly moving about.
My favorite animal of the lot would be the Giraffe.
So tall and graceful. Sigh.


Until my next letter!  Dankie for reading thus far.




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