Last month I had the privilege of visiting one of my dream destinations – Africa. I left on the 8th of October for the holiday of a lifetime to safari for 17 days across South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Myself and my mum were to join a group of intrepid travellers all eager to see what this mighty continent had to offer and to see her wildlife that we have watched on so many nature documentaries over the years. Now was the time for our dream to come true and see them in their natural habit unaffected, wild and free.
After a long, lazy flight spent dozing for most of the 10 hours we arrived in Jo-burg on the morning of Friday the 9th. The warmth and sight of the sun was a welcome change from home at this time of year and made us excited for the days to come on our trip. We quickly unpacked some items and headed straight down to the pool to make the most of the afternoon sun and bask in the haze and heat of the city centre. The hotel’s main reception was 13 floors above ground level which gave us a sprawling panoramic view of Sandton’s nearby buildings and sandy, bustling roads.
Being able to relax at the pool and cool off in the water really helped us to refresh after a long 24 hours of travelling. We stayed put for the afternoon and patiently awaited food from our seemingly non-existent waiter. My burger eventually arrived which I greedily wolfed down watching the sunset and the first lights of twilight twinkle on the horizon. After, it was back to our hotel room to shower and get ready for bed. The next day we were heading to Mufasa Backpacker’s in Benoni to meet the rest of our group and crew who would accompany us for the next 16 days.
After having a long sleep at the Radisson we made our way downstairs for breakfast which can only be described as a veritable feast of sweet and savoury delights to tempt you into starting your day the right way i.e. with a full stomach. There were cooked breakfasts, eggs of all varieties, sushi, dumplings, pakoras, cold meats, cheeses, nuts, seeds, cereals, pastries – it was all there. The hardest part was choosing what to eat first! I plumped for melon and yoghurt with goji berries and seeds followed by scrambled eggs, bacon and beans. Mum had her usual toast and coffee after negotiating the mechanics of the freshly ground coffee machine.
Once breakfast was over, we got the hotel shuttle bus to the nearby Nelson Mandela Square. The shopping complex is a myriad of escalators and levels with very few signs to guide you. But, as Gandalf once said: “If in doubt, always follow your nose”. With this in mind we were led outside by the fresh breeze and throngs of shoppers coming from one particular direction once I had enjoyed 2 scoops of Haagen Dazs’ finest with sprinkles, naturally. The square outside was abuzz with varying nationalities all eager to snap a photo with the Mandela statue. In the centre were fountains which a little girl used to cool down in the afternoon heat. I browsed a nearby gourmet deli and butcher to pick up some spices to take home for Dad to add to his ever-expanding smorgasbord of cupboard delicacies. Let’s see how he fares with ‘mother-in-law masala’…I’ll be guinea pig no doubt, not that I’m complaining…
Once back at the hotel we packed up our bags and had one of the hotel drivers take us to Mufasa Backpackers in Benoni after much confusion as to our destination and much reassurance from me that yes, we were in fact heading to a backpacking hostel after being at the Radisson. Bonga, our driver, remained unconvinced but thankfully persevered with our journey. Upon arrival at the gate, various dust-covered dogs barked in greeting and ran over to us. The place was in stark contrast to our hotel and I must admit the smile fell from my face when I saw the inside. However, I remained open-minded and remembered we were only here for 1 night. My trepidation waned when we got chatting to the folks who would be joining us on our tour and I cracked open a Savannah cider and sipped away in the shade of the dining area. At 5pm our welcome meeting started where we were greeted by Manda, our guide from Zimbabwe, as well as Freddie our cook from Namibia and Matt our driver from South Africa. All 3 are well practiced at these tours with years of experience between them. Freddie was the youngest at 27 with a boyish bounce to him that I found endearing. Matt is very much a seasoned traveller proclaiming his love for the road at any given opportunity asserting that he doesn’t like to stay in one place for more than a few nights. He’s also a huge rum fan evident through his almost constant presence at the hostel bar and passionate discussion of the dark spirit. I gladly offered up my own patter of my love of gin but it seemed Matt was not a fan of the good stuff. It’s hard to find someone that enjoys both white and dark spirits; it’s always one or the other. Why is that I wonder?
Anyway, we chatted over a few more rum and gins along with the rest of the group before retiring to bed early in anticipation of the start of our tour the next day. Unfortunately, both Mum and I had a very broken sleep due to lack of air conditioning and the dogs waking me at 1am. Hey-ho, backpacker life! In the morning it was a quick, plain breakfast before we loaded the truck up and set off for the start of our journey. How the truck moves with so much stuff to carry I’ll never know. We had almost an entire kitchen, chairs, all guests and all our luggage on board too.
There were 13 of us in the group from all over the world: Hailey and Kiel from Brisbane, Melyn from Brisbane, Laura from Washington DC (friends with Melyn), Kathy and Dave from Vancouver Island, Pam and Pete from Orkney, Manuella from Brazil and Anne and Pei San from London as well as Mum and myself. We were all relieved the group wasn’t too large, it made it more personal and easier to get to know everyone. We would be spending every day together from now until the end of the tour after all. Everyone seemed friendly and happy to mingle whilst being hopeful and excited for the days ahead. Each of us was assigned to a small group who would then assist Freddie with either making meals or doing dishes on alternate days. With safari tours it’s very much a ‘get involved’ attitude which is adopted for the entire time you are together.