Trip Start Dec 25, 2008
41Trip End Mar 28, 2009
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Each day at Ngala we got a wakeup "knock" at 5 am - we needed to be ready for our morning drive at 5:30 with Barney, our guide, and Joe, our tracker. As it was still rainy season in the region, the brush was very green and pretty thick - very different from the open savannah of Tanzania I'd experienced on my last safari. Having to track animals in the brush made finding them all the more exciting, especially as we often drove "off road" and constantly had to dodge trees, bushes and giant spiderwebs - it was also incredibly interesting to learn how the tracking is done. After our morning safari, we'd have breakfast and then have free time before and after lunch until we went for our evening game drive at 4:30 - each drive lasted about 4+ hours. We didn't realize how tiring riding around in the back of a jeep could be and often were pretty exhausted after each drive. On the evening drive, we'd also stop for a "sundowner", during which we'd have drinks and biltong (dried meat usually made from beef, kudu or other game). After that, we'd of course have an amazing dinner, which was located in a different place each night.
We also went on a bushwalk one day - and got to see things on a smaller scale, which you miss when you're on a drive looking for big game
We were very lucky on the safari and saw tons of animals - and much of the big 5 almost immediately (named for how dangerous they were to hunt - cape buffalo being the most dangerous - lions, black rhinos, elephants, and leopards) - many of the animals were only a few yards away. Irene and I also decided to sleep out in the bush one night so that we could do a walking safari the next morning and track game on foot. We arrived at our makeshift camp one night after a game drive and after settling into our tent, realized that the food wouldn't be a few hot dogs around a fire as we'd expected. We of course had great food cooked for us and sparkling water (they knew we loved to drink it). We went to sleep that night with lions roaring in the distance but unfortunately, couldn't do the walk the next morning, as it had rained heavily all night.
We also had the opportunity to go to one of the nearby villages outside the reserve, visiting a couple of schools and a health clinic. The company that runs Ngala does amazing work in each community in which its camps are located - working with the local people to determine what its needs are and then helping out with funds, etc. These partnerships have greatly reduced poaching in the area.
I left Ngala as I arrived, on a bush plane, though this one was much smaller than the first one - just a 4-seater (only me and Billy, the pilot, on board). Though I was initially a little worried because of the weather, the flight was incredible - we never got more than 300 feet off the ground, since we had to stay below the clouds, and I was able to see eagles flying next to and below us. We learned en route that we couldn't fly directly to Nelspruit because of the weather, so we made a pit stop at the pilots' camp and waited for the weather to clear. It finally did, and I made my way from there to Johannesburg and then on to my next stop in Africa . . .