Into the Wild
Not like the book of the same name....a different kind of wild. I have clients on safari now and it made me remember my own safari experience a few years ago. There are many things I loved about being on safari, but the most important was a sense of awe and amazement. In a world where so much is predictable and many experiences choreographed down to the tiniest detail, it was nice change to know that each time I went in the vehicle or set out on foot for safari, I had no idea what I would see. My husband and I went in July which is winter in South Africa. We chose a small safari lodge in a private reserve because we wanted to observe animals in the wild with as few human interruptions as possible. We stayed at Chitwa Chitwa in Sabi Sands and it delivered as promised.
This photo was taken from our back deck, the ledge you see on the bottom right was our plunge pool. We didn't really use it because it was too chilly, but one night we heard a huge splash and in peeking out the window, a leopard had fallen off (or jumped off) the rock wall into our pool. Talk about being close to nature! These elephants came for a visit shortly before our afternoon game drive on the last day. I couldn't take my eyes off them and decided why do I need to get in the jeep when I can sit here in a robe and be on my own private game drive :) The watering hole was full of hippo and the bathroom wall was all glass...so I could literally see a hippo wading in the water while I waded in the huge soaking bath tub inside. Again, my own private safari. The lodge location was excellent and the staff very knowledge about the area and wildlife. Yes, this experience was expensive (about $700 per night), but it included meals, many drinks, two safari drives (about 4 hours each), a choice to go on a walking safari, and a room with probably the best view I've ever had. Our safari jeep always had less than 8 people in it and the private reserve has restrictions as to how many jeeps can be at an animal sighting at one time (a total of 3). The guides are all in radio contact to alert each other when they see something special (for us it was the endangered wild dogs...that just had pups). For many people, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience (the flight is a long one!) and this is not the time to cut corners. It is possible to do a safari at a lower price, but you may not even stay in a park. Or you are in a jeep with 20+ people with a guide not as familiar with the area or the animals. This was my first safari and I really didn't know what to expect (ok, I thought I would see lions and elephants...). I had no concept of how close I would come to these beautiful creatures. Our guide knew so much I was amazed at the depth of his knowledge. One recommendation I have (and something I give to all of my clients going on safari) is bring an animal identification book with you. Once you see something in the wild, it peaks your curiosity as to what they eat, how long they live, who are their enemies, etc. The lodge had a book, but I wanted to make notes so I could reference it again the next day.
The little slideshow gives you a small glimpse of all of the animals we saw on a 3 night safari. I left in one photo where you can see part of the jeep so you have perspective as to just how close you can get to the animals. These photos were not taken with a long zoom lens! We arrived on day one just in time for the afternoon game drive and had to leave before the morning game drive on the last day....so that gave us a total of 5 drives. My recommendation is to stay between 3 and 5 nights on safari. We were in Africa for about 10 days total--we started in Cape Town and went to Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe after our safari. This was a nice balance of safari vs non-safari activities (Africa has a lot to offer!). The journey to the safari lodges is a long one in South Africa. You fly from Cape Town or Johannesburg (or you can do a long drive from J-burg) and then it is about 1.5 to 3 hours by road from the airport---about half on dirt roads. We were lucky enough to see some animals on our drive to the lodge.
I would be happy to help you plan your safari experience. There are lots of locations to choose from (South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania to name a few) and some safari lodges are family friendly. Most lodges do have a minimum age requirement to go on game drives.
Week 2, place 2 :) The photo above is of the Gordes du Verdon in Southern France. France is high on my list because of the beautiful scenery (mountains, oceans, forests) and because of the food. I have visited France many times (maybe 10 or so) and I honestly feel like there is still so much to see and do (and eat!).
Those of you that know me well, know that there has been a time (or two...) that I've gone to France just to eat the food. While I don't speak French well, I have learned to read a menu (to at least decipher if something is vegetarian or not). Food is a universal language!
France, like most of the rest of Europe, puts a focus on local food and eating in the season. This means eating fresh melons from Provence only when they are at their peak. I'm not a big fan of melon, but I still remember how amazing the Cavaillon ones were that I bought at the local market. I thought...oh, a smaller cantaloupe, but boy was I wrong :) France has taught me to live in the moment and buy what looks good at the markets....even if I'm not quite sure what I'm getting. A small purchase of 2 or 3€ could open your eyes to something you may not be able to get anywhere else....and if you don't like it.....you aren't out a fortune. The French (also like many Europeans) value quality over quantity....supersize me isn't a thing. The French also savor their food and (generally) make the time to enjoy meals...tasting every bite. When you are there visiting, there is no reason not to sit and people watch with a drink (alcohol or not) and taste the difference.
France is not only a destination for foodies (or wine lovers)...although there is obviously enough to keep you occupied for weeks...but also a place of beauty and history. The French chateau is one of the iconic images of France and there are hundreds to see in various stages of renovation....from ruins to fully resorted. On our way back from Normandy (a great place to see history) we wanted a half way point to stop for the night. The more I travel, the less interested I am in chain hotels and lodging that could be anywhere in the world. After creative use of Google translate, I found a room in a chateau (that was also dog friendly....Henry our dog was with us) available for our dates. Driving up the chateau make us feel like royalty---and the inside was beautiful. This was just an average, every day chateau....not noteworthy enough to be a museum or owned by a royal. France has given me opportunities to experience these off the beaten path journeys more than most other countries. I often drove myself from one place to the next and went far off the tourist path and was greatly rewarded for it.
Like most places I've traveled, I could go on forever and talk about my experiences. I will leave this post simply saying that France is high on my list and no matter your interest in travel, there is something for everyone in France. I would love to help you plan your trip to France to make it a memorable journey.
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!