Marti Skarupa is a repeat traveler with Destinations & Adventures. We were pleased to have designed and operated the exclusive safari for her.
By MARTI SKARUPA
Africa had long whispered to me.
Sometimes, the whispers were barely audible. Sometimes they came in the midst of another thought.
But they were always there, teasing me.
“Come,” they said. “See my sunrises and sunsets. Listen to the roar of the wild and the thunder of my ancient waterfall. Meet my people. I am the birthplace of mankind.”
I finally answered them in October, when I awoke to the voice of my Virgin Atlantic pilot welcoming passengers to Johannesburg, South Africa, and wishing us “a safe and happy visit.”
My husband, Joe, and I had prepared for weeks.
Our fear of Ebola had been assuaged by a tropical-disease expert who assured me “… Ebola is 3,000 miles away from where you will be.”
We took my tropical-disease immunizations, specifically against typhoid and hepatitis A.
We packed insect-repellant clothing as well as plenty of Deet.
We armed ourselves with malaria pills and the antibiotic Cipro.
We were ready to see it all for ourselves.
After going through customs, we boarded a small, eight-passenger bush plane. An hour later, we landed on a dusty airstrip in the heart of the bush.
We met our guide and tracker, boarded a waiting Land Cruiser and headed to Tintswalo, a luxury safari game preserve adjacent to Kruger National Park.
The drive down a maze of narrow dusty roads was bumpy, but the view of the savanna was infinite. It was dotted with msasa trees and carpeted in grasses ranging in color from wheat to copper with shades of green mixed in.
Our lodge, unimposing and built of grayish-tan stone and wood, seamlessly blended into the landscape.
The interior offered old world luxury including a massive four-poster bed draped in fine mosquito netting.
It was as if we were in the movie “Out of Africa.”
For five days, we marveled at the African sunrises and sunsets and at its fauna and flora.
But it was the magnificent “Big Five” game animals we encountered that captivated us the most.
One evening, we raced across the savanna in an open Land Cruiser to watch lions on a hunt. We watched them stalk their prey, and later, feast on their kill.
Later, we drove through a herd of African buffalo, so close we could see the whites of their eyes.
On another afternoon, we walked for an hour across the savanna and sat silently as animals grazed.
On one excursion, elephants walked languidly beside our Land Cruiser.
We saw giraffes feasting on the leaves of trees; leopards sleeping after a night of hunting — their kill only a few feet away. We silently tracked two lions on foot for two hours.
But there were things that disturbed us as well.
We saw two baby rhinos that were being cared for after poachers killed their mother and left them orphans. Their backs were scarred by hyena bites.
The whispers had not prepared me for that.
More than 1,200 rhinos were expected to die at the hands of poachers in 2014 alone.
The status of the African rhino is now listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Since they are being poached faster than their birth rate, The World Wildlife Foundation fears the rhino could be extinct in the wild in two decades.
Lions are listed as “threatened” — one level below “endangered.”
Presently the lion population in South Africa is approximately 34,000. Three decades ago it was 68,000. The ICUN classifies them as “vulnerable to extinction” in the wild by 2050.
The world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, has not fared much better.
It has been classified as “endangered/threatened” by the International Elephant Foundation. At a rate of 100 killed each day by poachers, it could be extinct in the wild within 100 years.
Like the rhino, the African leopard, solitary by nature, is classified as “near threatened” by the ICUN due to its rarity. Of “the Big Five,” only the African buffalo is faring well.
All of that saddened me. I wanted to “memorize” the wild landscapes before me. I wondered how many future generations would be able to see what I had seen.
‘THANK YOU FOR THE WHISPERS’
From Tintswalo, we boarded a plane to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
Walking through the corridors of Victoria Falls Hotel was like stepping back into the bygone era of the British Empire.
I felt the ghost of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie could be observing us in one of the high-back parlor chairs.
From our hotel room, I could see what the locals called “smoke that thunders.”
Victoria Falls, one of the great wonders of the world, was “discovered” by David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary explorer, in 1855.
In comparison to the other great falls of the world, the volume of water at Niagara Falls is greater.
The horizontal expanse of Iguazu Falls is wider.
But Victoria is the deepest at 360 feet, making it the biggest curtain of water in the world.
Standing in its mist, the roar was deafening.
I had not wanted to leave Tintswalo.
Now I didn’t want to leave Victoria Falls.
But Cape Town awaited us.
We had been told that Cape Town would charm us. We were not disappointed.
Its stunning blue bay, lovely parks, international cuisine, world-renowned wines, and exceptional service stole our hearts. The charismatic African penguins, unfortunately classified as endangered, were an absolute joy to watch as they frolicked in the cold Atlantic waters.
As the date for my return flight approached, I found myself once again memorizing landscapes, places and faces.
On the plane, I watched the last twinkling lights fade, and my eyes filled with tears.
My finger tips touched the window.
“Goodbye, Africa,” I said to myself. “Thank you for the whispers.”
-Reprinted with permission from the author, published on www.islandpacket.com-