Under The African Skies

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THE WORD SAFARI EVOKES the vision of a far off land where big game runs wild over vast savannahs of grass. It also conjures up the idea of a long journey. The word “safari “ was introduced into the English language by the 19th century English explorer and linguist, Sir Richard Burton (not the actor). The word derives from a Swahili term as well as an older Arabic word, “safariya” which means a voyage or expedition.

British hunters began venturing into sub-Saharan Africa during the mid 1800’s in search of game. Their account of spectacular adventures whetted the appetites of others to organize trips following in their footsteps. British and European settlers in Africa became known as “white hunters”. One of the most famous safaris was staged by former US President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit, between April and June 1909.

Along the way, with a staff of 250, the Roosevelt party shot more than 500 animals including 17 lions, 11 elephants and 20 rhinos. Many of the game are displayed at the Smithsonian.
Fortunately, these days photographic safaris are the norm and national preservation is of the up-most importance. The legacy of the wilds of Africa does live on through literature and film. Inspired by all of this on many levels, a safari had always been in my dreams.
The reality of this dream was an amazing safari to Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa. The name Sabi Sabi is derived from the word ‘tsave’, meaning fear or danger in the Tsonga dialect. This is apparently from the large numbers of crocodile and hippo in the Sabie river. This area had been a popular hunting spot for big game and ivory during the 1800’s.

I was fortunate enough to experience the amazing Bush Lodge. It is the largest of the four lodges that comprise the Sabi Sabi family. The motto, yesterday, today and tomorrow aptly describes the properties, as they all have some magnificent quality that can be enjoyed by everyone.
To describe the breathtaking scenery and wildlife encounters is to put it mildly. Each day you are awakened at 6 am promptly to head out for the morning game drive. This might seem early for some, but in order to spot the denizens of the wild; this is the premium time to find them. My heart pounded with excitement as we jumped into the Land Rover and headed out to the bush in the early morning light.
Shortly after we took off the ranger’s radio was going wild. A female leopard and her baby were spotted near a tree just off the dirt road. We were the first to arrive on the scene and there she was, almost hidden in the brown grasses. But, her pelt was unmistakable. The stunning orange and brown spots and her stunning amber eyes were nothing short of mesmerizing. We were so close; you could almost feel her breath. Those with a faint heart might be a bit alarmed, being so close to this type of animal in the wild, but our expert guides assured us that she was not hungry and was used to the shape of the vehicle. Nevertheless, we were in an open vehicle right next to a very large leopard.
Sabi’s location, is adjacent to Kruger National Park in the Sabi Sand Reserve, Mpumaanga and is recognized as one of the best areas to view the big five: Rhino, Leopard, Lion, Buffalo and Elephant. One down, four to go. Of course, this was not the main mission. Part of the excitement is not knowing what you may see or happen upon. This rang true as we quickly ran into a lioness, fresh off a kill and slightly covered in blood. Normally I would find this disturbing, but in the wild it was incredible. We followed her as she crossed the road and slithered into the tall grass and finally came upon a place to rest. It was out in the open and somewhat odd as lions usually travel in packs. We kept a small but comfortable distance and watched her yawn and close her eyes and display some behavior that seemed similar to domesticated cats. During the time spent on safari, one has time to relax in between the game drives. These game drives are in the morning and evening. The evening drive is right after tea, at 3:15 PM. The evening game drive is truly exciting. As the sun wanes into a giant red ball that lights up the purple sky..the ranger will usually have you sipping your favorite happy hour beverage in a safe but wild setting out in the bush. We had just seen many elephants right before this activity, so I was hesitant to step out of the vehicle. Our guide, Jabo, assured us that it was perfectly safe but warned us not to wander off as the possibility of a close encounter of the wild kind was over 80 percent.
The cuisine at Sabi is nothing short of amazing. Each meal is a journey of several continents. There is something for everyone, including vegetarians. My favorite was dining under the stars in the ‘Boma’ which was a true African tradition. The Kudu and Ostrich  were divine and the presentation  was five star.
The Bush Lodge is quite appealing to families traveling with children. The pinnacle is the Elefun centre, which is a full-fledged children’s facility within the lodge environs and it foster’s children’s awareness and appreciation of nature.
It was designed by childcare professionals who set about to create a space that is fun, safe and educational. Mom and dad can relax and enjoy the amazing safaris or get pampered in the spa while the kids  are enjoying their own customized bush experience.
Sabi also offers a Community Tour. Many visitors have been intrigued by the local Shangaan culture. Stories are shared by many Shangaan staff members who call the private game reserve their home. Their knowledge of the bushveld and the local legends add a fascinating dimension to the safari experience. The visit to the  local community requires a small  fee, but this is given directly back to the community. Guests can hear  the local choir practicing or even  visit the local sangoma (herbalist-shaman) who enjoys a special stature within the village community. He is regularly called on for advice, healing and blessings.
Saying goodbye to Sabi Sabi is bittersweet. It is a privilege to share the world with these animals in such a breathtaking environment, so incredibly close that the memory is an indelible imprint in your soul. That is the embodiment of a safari experience.
How to get there: direct flights available on Delta to Johannesburg or on Federal Air to Sabi Sabi. For more information, log onto www.sabisabi.com. – Susan Short

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