Africa og Mpala
I have been many places in the world already. Both the east and west, north and south. I have a fondness for Greece that I love, but my trip to south Africa and especially Mpala Safari Lodge still stands as no. 1 on my list of experiences I will never forget.
What do you give the man who has everything? It was the dilemma my mother and I were in when we had to find a gift for my dad’s 50th birthday. The man who does not want anything other than socks and liquorice as a birthday gift. It had to be something special. Our choice fell on a journey. A journey that would prove to affect our way of travel forever.
Initially it was supposed to be a shark dive with great white sharks to the east of Cape Town, but a google search made me fall over Mpala Safari Lodge. An email with a question to Per, a friendly response back, told me that of course we should extend the trip with 9 days and book a stay at Mpala.
Our program was densely packed and looked like this:
Day 1 Fly and elephants
Well arrived in Nelspruit and full of anticipation we get out of the arrivals hall where our ranger stands with a sign exactly as you see in the movies. He smiles and gives us the hand and says;” Welcome to south Africa”. He helps us out to the Land Rover which sits in the parking lot, throw the suitcases in the car and tells us that there is a small hour drive to the hotel. Along the way he talks merrily about life down there, all the while overtaking and turn on the hazard warning on the car whenever he overtakes. ” You do this as a thank you”, he tells us.
1 hour later we are at our hotel, well-tired after over 24 hours in multiple aircrafts. At the counter the ranger says goodbye, with a message about being ready the day after at. 08. ”By the way”, he says and continues, ” by the side of the hotel there is a elephant sanctuary”. ”You should visit it”,” if you have the energy for it.”
We are tired, but since we didn’t come to Africa to rest, we find ourselves at at the gate at 4pm. From here we are led up to the stables for the elephants where we get the safety instructions. Then we get the stories about the elephants and the site while we are led down to a small clearing where two VERY large animals looking at us with their brown eyes. Here we get permission to feed, scratching and go for a walk with them. We learned that when you give peanuts to an elephant, well then do it just like in the movies. Suck them up with the trunk. Good start on the trip.
Day 2 Panoramaruten, God’s Window, potholes and a great view.
At 8am our Ranger stands in the reception area and smile. We are still a little groggy from the jet lag, but, after all, ready for another day. The trip goes to the prospector town of pilgrim’s Rest, waterfalls, Burke’s Pothols and the Blyde River Canyon
You can’t be anything other than impressed when you look out at The Three Rondaveller, or the canyon 800 metres below you. Only the view was the long drive worth it.
After the trip through the Dragens mountains we turn on the small road to Mpala. While we drive on the rocky dirt roads, we tell the ranger that we are happy that we didn’t, as planned, chose to drive up here, cause we would never have found the place. Smiling he says ” I would also advise against it, since all of the animals here are free to roam around”. He has hardly finished his sentence before we get our first experience on the Mpalas area. From left braces a large male elephant out from the bush and takes flight toward the river and leaving a cloud of dust in front of the car.
As we arrive at the Lodge the staff is waiting for us. Everything from cleaning to Estel (the manager) We are welcomed by all and are shown to our hut, with the message to get down into the Main House for some water and lunch. All the while we stand and enjoy the view of the river flowing past, you suddenly hear the song and joy. On the the lawn, a marches a bunch of nicely dressed dancers where we are spoilt with local tribal dance. Fantastic. In the evening we were served Impala. Our first taste of Africa.
Day 3 Bushwalk and game and Night drive
After breakfast, we move out into the surrounding scenery at the Lodge. Our ranger (Juan) is both competent and sharp. He spots the animals quickly and is good to tell us about the area.
In the afternoon, we drive to another area where there’s wildlife, a beautiful sunset and a dinner in the bush with the steaks that makes Fred Flintstones dinosaur steaks look like cutlets.
After the dinner it is time for the Nightdrive, a very different experience to hear and see Africa after dark.
Dag 4 Gamedrive and the village school
In the morning we are on the move again and exploring the area at Mpala, this time in the car. Really, it seemed all a little sad because we only saw a Zebra, and a lot of impalas. However, it was not right up until we swung to the left. Juan turns off the engine. We sit and scout until we see what Juan has spotted. A bunch of elephants, at least 10 pcs. They’re coming right towards us. With a lump in the throat, we sit completely still while the herd goes past, heading towards the river. One is astonished of how such a large animal can be so silentl when it walks.
After a delicious lunch, we visit the local school, a place, you can clearly feel, means a lot for Estel. We meet the inspector. You come into a class, get a song and visit the local kindergarten, 2 teachers and at least 40 children. Down here HIV is a big problem and it hurts to see small children, without the possibility of medication. I still think of it from time to time. The trip was probably what impacted me the most of all the things we saw. It puts things in perspective and shows how good we have it in Europe.
Dag 5+6 Kruger National park
Off to Kruger. There is everything here. The trip there is long, but worth it. It helps of course that the Lodge has provided delicious packed lunches and Juan is excellent to prepare it. And, he keeps a sharp eye on the monkeys that lurks for a quick meal, if we look away. The day goes along with driving around and seeing the animals and the area. As we arrive to our hotel we board the Sun Down ride to see the sunset. Here is both the rhino and the buffalo on the program.
In the morning, we’re up early to see one of the most beautiful sunrises I, to date, have seen. The rest of the day quickly runs out and tired and tender, we arrive at the Lodge for another delicious dinner.
Dag 7 Hot air balloon and the animal hospital
At 3am we get the wake-up call. We must get up, if we want to see the sunrise from a hot air balloon. After a much-needed cup of coffee, we’re off towards our take-off site. We salute our captain and looks expectant on our balloon getting enough hot air inboard to raise itself from the ground of the earth. Of it goes and in the air we are blessed with a courtship (a young couple that joined us) and an incredible sunrise, while the captain tells the stories and all the places he has flown.
Back down, the trip goes to the vet and awaiting experiences with the vultures, baby rhino, honeybadger and cheetahs up close. The manager and the owner of the hospital tells about the problems of animals in the country and what they are doing to improve it. Surely a place you must visit.
Dag 8. Hippos, Crocodiles og a nice ending
Tired but still hungry for experiences, we go on the River Cruise. It is an old paddle steamer and the ride is quiet while watching the hippo relax in the surface of the water, the elephants come and drink and the crocodiles that soak up the sun on the sand banks.
Back at the Lodge we go up in the watch tower. We look out over the whole area while we enjoy the sunset and a glass of champagne. The evening is set for a nice dinner. We all eat together, the rangers, Estel and guests, while we hear stories about the experiences and things around the Lodge.
For those who haven’t been at Mpala, go there. To all of us who have. We will be back. Since I went I have been thinking a lot about what makes you want to return again and again. Was it the sunsets, the scenery, the unique silence of the night, or the unique experiences? They are amazing-each of them. But the answer is no.
It’s there for me to do, I will back, is the staff, they are the ones that make the Mpala unique. You don’t feel you are on a journey, you feel you are being a part of a family. I can see many of the guests have become friends with staff on Facebook and I think many still follow what’s happening at the Lodge, although it is many years since you have been there.
Whether it is Per or Helle’s friendly tone and helpfulness in orders, Estels warm and loving personality, the ranger’s skill and witty feature, or the always smiling gardeners and cleaning, I cannot say. I can only say that as soon as you leave the Lodge, the yearn to come back and revisit the place, the people and once again experience the atmosphere of this incredible little spot of happiness, tucked well away in Africa is emmense.
Kenneth Vikkelsø og Finn Christensen.