Starting Safari!

Trip Start Nov 21, 2008
Trip End Dec 07, 2008

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Where I stayed
Shamwari Eagles Crag Lodge

Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Thursday, December 4, 2008

Early ish start in the morning following a not so good buffet breakfast at Tsitsikamma Lodge. I wonder if this had anything to do with the lack of chef and one of the owners standing in as the spa therapist had let onto me the day before. If so, I'm glad we had our own braai as cooking definitely wasn't this owner's forte!

We set off in the rain for Shamwari and I pretty much slept the whole way. Car journeys really make me sleepy even if I'm well rested. It's like the need to sleep takes over my body and I can't stop myself. There were roadworks and diversions on the way but I left Steve to navigate our way through them whilst I snored!

We pulled up in front of the Shamwari main gates and we were an hour ahead of our guesstimated time of arrival so we were pretty pleased with our navigational skills. Well, Steve was pleases with his navigational skills given I was had no involvement whatsoever. I couldn't even hold the map properly! But took us an hour slow and careful driving on a dirt track to get from the main gates to our lodge, Eagles Crag! So, so much for being ahead of schedule! Anyway we started the animal spotting from the main gates to Shamwari and our first sight was a very slow moving tortoise walking across the road. So we made way for him and it's probably still making his way across now! In fact when we were talking to some other guests, one of them commented he'd seen it and he'd arrived the previous day! We weren't quite so slow but to be honest not far off given our flimsy hire car and the state of the track.

Next sightings - 2 huge warthogs the size of cows and then about half a dozen giraffe. All that and we hadn't even checked in. The next few days were destined to be good in spite of the grey clouds - I could feel it!

We pulled up outside Eagles Crag and were greeted with glasses of homemade pink lemonade and shown around the general areas such as the lounge, terrace, dining room etc. Unfortunately our suite wasn't ready so we had lunch instead; duck salad for me and a goats cheese omelette for Steve. Even after lunch the suite wasn't ready so we hung around the lounge a bit more. A chap called Barcley (I think he was like a Lodge Manager) came to speak to apologise for the delay. Apparently they were laying a new carpet for us and it was taking longer than expected!

Finally the suite was ready and we were taken there. The suites at Eagles Crag are separate to the main house where the general areas are ie where we were waiting. They are individual rondavel type structures with private outdoor decks and plunge pools. They are large, light and airy yet they also feel very welcoming and cosy. There are windows / patio doors all round the part of the room that faces onto the deck. The indoor shower also has a patio door that opens onto the deck if you fancy an indoor shower with an outdoor breeze and there's also a fully outdoor shower too as well as a very deep bath. Basically the suite was beautiful and we were sad that we couldn't do justice to the "free" ie paid for already in the rate minibar. We really did try though but just didn't have time. Oh and we appreciated the new carpet of course! Very springy!

Quick unpack and play with the telescope in the room and it was time for tea and cake before our first game drive. We met the fellow guests we would be in the truck with and they were 2 other couples - one on honeymoon and another on holiday like us. Both couples were from UK and funnily enough out of the 6 of us, 4 were accountants so Steve was in good company and there was definitely shop talk at dinner! There was also a young lady who is a journalist from London who was doing a piece on Shamwari hospitality for a trade magazine so she was on our game drives and ate with us also although she didn't spend as much time with us socialising as she had people to interview and other lodges to see.

We also met our ranger for our safari and he was just the most tremendous guy called Graeme. His colleagues call him Gram - I guess it's like the American pronunciation and I didn't know whether to follow the locals or to call him Graym as we would in Britain. Steve said he'd say Graym so I followed suit. Actually we later found out his colleagues call him "Mushi" which apparently means nice guy in Afrikaans and he is definitely a nice guy. He looked like a little cherub all wholesome and cute and like someone a mum would like her daughter to marry! As well as looking cherubic he really knew his animals and a whole lot of other stuff too. Rangers have to study all sorts of things from astronomy to history to animal science to politics. At Shamwari, when you're assigned a ranger, you get the same one for the duration of the trip and they dine and have breakfast with you too. I guess it's on the game drives their animal knowledge is utilised and everything else when conversing with guests.

During our chats with Graeme we learnt that when on duty, the rangers are not allowed off site and they work 3 weeks on, 1 week off. The more experienced rangers work at the luxury lodges in Shamwari so there is a hierarchy and most rangers aspire to a role within the luxury lodges. From there you can get to senior ranger and specialise in certain subjects (Graeme's were animal behaviour and birds) and then if desired a ranger can go down the staff management route. All the staff at Shamwari stay in a "staff camp" and families get a house built for them! He told us lodgings were great. I kept imagining the lodgings the hotel staff have in the film "Dirty Dancing" and he said elements were like that but not enough female rangers to dance with!

Anyway enough about Graeme. We set off on our first game drive and by this time it was drizzling and being newbies Steve and I discovered we should have worn more clothes! The trucks are open so the rain comes in and it gets cold. There were rain ponchos and blankets provided and although very welcome, we still got wet through. The terrain changes throughout the reserve and I am amazed at how Graeme knew his way round as it literally is open land with valleys and hills. The trucks tend to stick to tracks so vegetation can grow for the animals to eat and live in but every track looked the same to me

Sighting during this game drive included seeing a white rhino and her calf, a few zebra but they are very shy and run away as the truck nears and lots of different antelope including impala (beautiful Bambi like creatures), water buck (have a big white circle surrounding their tail and bottom), springbok and kudu. Highlights included a massive herd of about 30 elephants (several families hooking up) making their way across the reserve. The little ones got into some wrestling which was hilarious to watch and Mum had to come split them up. We also saw a lion and lioness who had broken away from their pride to "do their business". That was very interesting! Graeme gave us the heads up and told us she was about to flirt and up she rose from her lying position and she sashayed passed him giving him the eye. Then he got up, walked over to her, mounted her, let out a roar and that was it! He rolled over then she rolled over! I almost felt they should have lit a cigarette! Apparently when they're at this stage it happens every 15 minutes! So really it should be "at it like lions" rather than "like rabbits"! Then as if this sight wasn't enough, we were on our way back when randomly a big male giraffe appeared by the side of the truck! It was like walking into a statue and felt so surreal but this is safari so it's very real!

Upon our return we were met with cups of hot chocolate laced with some alcohol which was much needed as were soaked through. We had 45 minutes to turn around and return for dinner. As it was dusk, we had to be accompanied by a guard with a gun in case we encountered leopards! Such drama! And our guard during our stay was a really friendly guy with a deep deep voice called Elvis! I asked him about how often he used his gun and he did assure me that in all his years at Shamwari and there are many, he only fired a warning shot once but I guess better safe than sorry. So Elvis, armed with gun and big torch walked us all to our suites.

Quick hot bath and Elvis was back at our front door providing us with his services for the walk back to the dining rooms. We did a little wine tasting with canapés before a delicious dinner, the highlight being the impala fillet with juniper berries we had for our main course. It did seem a little strange having just seen the gorgeous creatures but hey, I'm no vegetarian and at least it was fresh right?

That night the 7 of us were the only guests in the lodge. It was like having a huge mansion at our disposal but no wild partying took place as we had a 5am morning call due! We were told that such undercapacity is a real rarity and can only be blamed on the economy in spite of the excellent exchange rate Brits / Europeans would be getting. I guess because it's not a cheap experience even the favourable exchange rate may not be enough given the current climate. Post dinner coffee was served and bed beckoned by 11pm!
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