Lion stories

The meals in the hotels, lodges and camps of South Africa generally come as something of a revelation to our American visitors.  They are fresh, healthy, colorful and simply delicious.  What is more surprising to them, and many are world travelers, is that they are delightfully “normal” looking to their western eyes.  Of course this is not always the case and one should always be prepared to be more adventurous in culinary pursuits when visiting new cultures and lands.

Ngomo SL buffet stretchSuch was the case recently when I was leading  a Corporate Group in South Africa.  A carefully selected meal of hot and cold canapés of South African delicacies crafted to appeal to the North American palate had been prepared.  And this had been thoughtfully paired with the appropriate world-class South African wine.  It was a charming evening and perfect introduction to the delights that lay before them as they traveled exotic South Africa.

As hostess I did the rounds talking to the guests and enquired after their comfort and enjoyment.  I was greeted enthusiastically by several of the groups as they raved over their experiences thus far.  One group told me how delicious the food was, however “they didn’t care much for the lion!”  I laughed and replied that they must be mistaken as there was certainly no lion on the menu.  They assured me that was what they had eaten.  Thinking perhaps too much good SA wine had been enjoyed, I smiled and moved on, only to be told at the next table as they too raved about the delicious spread, that they had “loved the lion”!  More than puzzled, I decided I had better find this particular hors d’oeuvre and try it for myself in order to clear up this misunderstanding.  It was clearly small bites of something meaty.  As every delicacy was thoughtfully labeled, I leant over to peer at this label in the somewhat dim cocktail lighting, to see

“SPRINGBOK LION CRUSTED WITH COFFEE AND CUMIN WITH SWEET POTATO FONDANT”

Q39

The next day, I was at pains to point out that my guests were not to go back to America and tell wild stories about their gourmet African experience and eating lion all because of some dyslexic typist!  That Lion they thought they were eating was really Springbok Loin –  and yes, I had to agree it was truly delicious!

A ‘disgusted’ male lion strides into the sunset and away from any mention of Springbok and Lion in the same sentence!

African Sunrise

It happens sometimes when you travel across time zones that you take a while to settle into the time change.  That can mean waking or sleeping at times not usual to you and in turn hearing or seeing things that you would normally not experience.  I woke sometime during the night and lay listening to the African night sounds.  The fiery necked night jar calling his distinctive “Good-Lord-deliver-us!” and an owl with his mournful hoot.  Somewhere a disturbed cockerel begins calling for the sun but it’s still too early for that.  We drift back to sleep only to wake again in the pearly light of dawn and lie quietly talking about the journey we have come.

Granite kopjie Zimbabwe

With a jolt I remember how dramatic the sunrise is in Africa and we jump out of bed to fully open the drapes.  A rosy hue touches the tops of the trees and suddenly the glowing orange orb of the rising sun pushes its way into view over the horizon.  We watch fascinated as pale pastel light rapidly changes to bright colorful vibrancy.  It lights up the room, the garden and beyond in a matter of minutes.  It’s almost as if some giant Hand reaches down and plucks the sun up and then hangs it in the sky.  Time will seem to move slowly for the rest of the day – until the sun once more approaches the horizon when suddenly it will drop and darkness will fall almost instantly.

Low light on eles at waterhole Zim

There is nothing stealthy or subtle about sunrise or sunset here in the African tropics.  The beginning and ending of every day is a dramatic enactment of life – a moment or two to pause and rejoice, a moment or two to pause and consider.  Each takes your breath away and it is a comment I hear often while traveling in this incredible continent “why is it that the sunrise/sunset here is so much more beautiful than anywhere else?”  I don’t know the answer to that – but I have to agree!

Safari – in the old continent

Anticipating any adventure is pleasurable but there is something decadently thrilling about the anticipation of a safari! We were on a small propeller driven plane (my husband affectionately calls them “puddle jumpers”) flying out of the Indian ocean port city of Durban north towards the greater Kruger National Park for a three night/four day stay in the “bush”. The sky was clear and filled with sunlight as we skirted the coastline and flew a little inland and towards this world famous region renowned for exceptional wild life and a forward thinking approach towards conservation of land, vegetation and its game.

We landed at Nelspruit airport, or KMIA – Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, a delightful thatched building which looks to all intents and purposes like a bush lodge – and stepped straight out onto the tarmac to walk to the arrivals and baggage hall. I must make reference to South African pilots here, who all seem to take the landing of their craft as a point of pride and measure of their professionalism. Being used to the shuttle-bus attitude of the American air industry and the way that their planes seem to leap out of the air towards the earth landing with a bone-jarring thump and bounce, it was entirely refreshing to enjoy smooth earthly arrivals with such obvious care and skill. And it is not unusual to hear the pilot apologise if he feels the landing was a little rough and not up to his usual exacting standard in any way at all!

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There are various ways of reaching the Private Game Reserves or Kruger NP from the KMIA. It is possible to fly in via small plane as many of the lodges either have their own or share a common dirt air-strip. It is certainly the most direct and convenient way for many and is easily added onto the safari as an air transfer. More common is a road transfer from the Mpumalanga airport to the lodge and these can be as shared or arranged as a private transfer, most often by a local transport company. Some of the lodges have their own vehicles. By taking a shared transfer it is possible to visit some of the other lodges on the way which is an interesting insight into the general area. We opted to hire a car from KMIA and drive the 2hr distance and include that as part of our experience.

We were headed for Sabi Sands which is one of the private reserves bordering the Kruger National Park to the south and west. It is where our lodge is situated. These private reserves have exclusive traversing rights for the guests who stay at the lodges and camps and as there are no fences between them and the National Park, the animals are free to move around this large area. In recent years the governments of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa have co-operated in the formation of a Transfrontier Border Park creating ever larger areas for the wild animals to roam which in turn has relieved the pressure on the land and created ever healthier herds, flocks and prides – and outstanding game viewing opportunities for the visitor!

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