Arrival at the Shumbalala Lodge was exactly what you see in the movies: The entire staff stands and meets you – this time with a glass of sherry. We were the only guests that day, and would have them all to ourselves for 24 hours. That meant two game drives where we were the only people in the Land Rover, with the driver/ranger and the tracker. The schedules run like this: Arrive at 2, tea at 3, then out on the road at 3:30 p.m. until about 7:30 depending on the sightings. At sundown the two staff offer you hot chocolate laced with the South African version of Bailey’s Irish Cream, or coffee, or whatever – literally – whatever you want. Some nibbles – dry sausage, chips – and a brief relief from the bouncing Land Rover. The roads throughout the reserve are at best primitive, and at worst, nonexistent. They will take out overland if there is a good sighting. Back at the lodge for a huge dinner, to bed, and up again at 5:30 a.m. to go out again.
I found our ranger so knowledgeable about whatever: trees, birds, soils and of course, the animals. Both he and the tracker had eyes so well trained to find the critters when we novices from the cities saw nothing more than bushes.
What did we see?
We began our first jaunt by interrupting a “crash” of rhinos, all foraging for food. My photos are so close you can almost feel them breathing on you. Yet they didn’t budge, but kept on munching. Giraffes, dazzles of zebras, kudus, baboons, yellow beaked hornbills, and a very satisfied male lion looking somewhat longingly at a female, who was not particularly interested in him. The next day we were mesmerized by a lioness – whose reclining body rather surprised all four of us. She was intent on something in the near distance, which we later discovered was three cubs practicing their stalking skills on a cape buffalo, who really didn’t feel like being bothered. He could have taken them on, but they were wise enough not to challenge him. They just harassed. And Mama kept her eyes on them as they learned. Herds of elephants came to our watering hole, about 50 yards from our deck, and later in the trip, we came on what I called a “herd-lette” of them (5 or 6) as they destroyed the trees for breakfast. An ongoing theme was the young, learning to be whatever. We especially fell for the 1-month-old rhino who saw us, and came charging at the car – but stopped after he was about 10 yards from us. Then he noticed Mom was still munching grass, and he put on the brakes and looked at us, then turned and returned to the safety of Mom’s size/side. Four cheetahs were an anomaly there – for that many cubs to live to be a year old meant their mom was very good at protecting and providing. They, too, were learning to be cheetahs. We later saw hyenas, leopards, hippos and just about anything else you would want, including a puff adder (used by Cleopatra to commit suicide). An all-game experience.
The accommodations were five-star, the food was elegant, the staff was devoted to our care and the natural area in which they live. I could have stayed there for a lot longer than we did, and when I left, I felt I was leaving new friend/kids on our journey.
We took the same sand road back to the airport, and on to Jo’burgand then to Cape Town. My dream there had been to see Table Mountain with the “tablecloth” of clouds draped over it, and it was the first thing I saw in the morning after we arrived.
Then we were headed for Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. The cell was about 6’ x 8’ at most – with two blankets for a bed, a brown bucket for a toilet, and a small (1’x 6”) table. There is much to learn from a visit here. The guide in the prison is one who was incarcerated there and the majority were political prisoners, with an occasional murderer thrown in for good measure. I won’t belabor the issues, suffice to say the struggles were long and hard, but today there is a feeling of promise.
Our driver is an extraordinary woman named Yolanda Hull, who works with John Pascoe (recently visiting in Tupelo) and Toni Knight. It was Toni who put us in touch with John and Yolanda, and for that we are eternally grateful. She volunteers with the Opportunity to Serve Ministries and has visited South Africa many times. The work that group does is so inspiring: They bring good free health care to folks in the Mitchell Plains. They provide homes for children orphaned by AIDS or other issues, a senior center, a health care camper to help diabetes patients. The devotion of those workers is beyond description. I can show you pictures of the most beautiful children, getting love and attention and education at the hands of these retired, loving workers. As my grandmother used to say “There will be stars in their crowns.”
If any of you are interested in helping these warm and loving volunteers, email me. They can always use all kinds of help, including money. Their work is important. I know, because I saw the smiles on the faces of those they help.
Sandy Grisham and her husband, Vaughn, live in Oxford. She is filing a weekly report from their around-the-world trip. The Grishams are retired educators. Her email address is sandygrisham@ gmail.com.