Oh south-Africa

Oh south-Africa

After several years of ‘wanting to go’ we (Jolly and Ep)made our first trip to South Africa in 2011 and we made plans for a three-week-roundtrip by car.  In these three weeks we decided to stay the second week in Mpala Lodge. In Greece (!!) we had met people who recommended this place very much and it seemed so attractive to us that we booked for a week.

So we flew to Johannesburg, drove to Pretoria and Graskop and saw the Panorama Route where we found God’s window closed. So it needed a second visit to find this window a bit more opened.

And then we headed for Hoedspruit to start our ‘Mpala Week’. We felt excited because we did not know what to expect and how we would like it.

Day 1: From Graskop we drove to Hoedspruit where we had an appointment at ‘Sameys’, a restaurant at the roadside. In a temperature of 34 degrees we would be picked up at 16.00 hour by a person from Mpala Lodge. Of course we were early and exactly at 16.00 a truck arrived in the empty parking-lot. We were welcomed by Clayton, one of the rangers. He headed in the truck and we followed in our rental car. Off road we went for the first time this trip. Half way To Mpala Lodge we had to leave our car behind the secured gate of the National Park. And then it became quite clear why we had to leave our rental car behind. In the truck we went up- and down hills, a stony and bumpy road through a landscape that was very exiting and  at the same time giving a complete feeling of leaving the habited world. The first wild animals showed themselves. We watched them in silence and delight. And at last there was the lodge with the whole staff in line to welcome us. It felt like a VIP treatment to make you  feel shy. We got a lodge near the waterfront and waterlovers we are, we loved it from the very first moment. The beds, the decoration, everything so well designed. After we had unpacked we had a lovely dinner with salad, rice and kudupie(?). We shared a table with Boy and Gerda and we would meet them again the following days. With heads full of all those impressions and feelings it was not easy to get to sleep but of course we succeeded with all the expectations for the following day.

Day 2: 9.00 hour.  Breakfast in the mainhouse. A lovely building, representing the African atmosphere to the most. Very happy with all we had to eat we went to our lodge again where we were offered  a cocktail. It was again rather hot and on the porch of our lodge we enjoyed our stay, the drink, talked a bit and listened to all the noises that were strange to our western ears. All of a sudden Ep pricked his ears and said ‘hooves’. We sat upright and saw right across the river three giraffes coming to the river and eating from the trees. These moments are unforgettable. And so many would follow! At 16.00 we would have our first game-drive so we could take it easy for a few hours. Unfortunately I forgot my swimsuit but any problem could be solved. Elena gave me hers to use so we went to the pool, had a lovely swim and made acquintance with the monkeys who made it clear that it was there territory as well. The game-drive was exciting. Giraffes, zebra’s elephants, gnu’s, we saw them all in their own habitats and we realised that this is the real South Africa. We ended the game-drive with a sundowner. A magnificent overvieuw of the Elephant River and the African landscape. Just watch, be silent and admire this magnifying place. Back ‘home’ we dressed for a special dinner in the Boma. And it became a really special dinner!! The food was excellent and again we met Boy and Gerda. So we talked of our home regions, the where-abouts and the special music. Boy got his synthesizer and we started singing. He the homesongs from Denmark and we the folksongs from Friesland. All-in the African night. So we got an audience! A very very special evening in the romantic atmosphere of the Boma.

Day 3: A day off. Just to relax and enjoy everything that is around. After breakfast our new friends Boy and Gerda had to go so we all waved them goodbye and wished them a safe trip home. Back in our lodge after breakfast we always found it neat and clean. When we were away the staff did a wonderful job. We were treated like real VIP’s. Words cannot say what the service was like. This applies to the whole staff. Managers, cleaning, kitchen, garden. It was really TOP.  And maybe the most important that they gave us a ‘home-feeling’. It was still warm so we had a lovely swim, explored the grounds of Mpala Lodge and sat on the porch of the mainhouse where all of a sudden a hippo swam in the river. And as every day there were the impala’s, the warthogs and the monkeys in the gardens. So when we walked to tthe mainhouse there were always animals around. At the end of the day we were surprised to hear drums. And this sound was surely not the sound of the drum to tell us that dinner was ready! We went to have a look and  saw a colourful group of dancers coming. It appeared to be a local tribe that showed their traditional dances. Men, women and 2 little girls. It was moving to see the little ones dance. They showed that they had the African dancing in their veins and hearts. An authentic experience you can never forget.

Day 4: A very early rise! Coffee in the mainhouse at 6.30 hour because we had a walk with ranger Juan. As we sat with our coffee on the porch of the mainhouse a very special occasion happened. All of a sudden we saw a mother hippo with her baby coming out of the water and disappearing in the bushes. Breathlessly we saw this happen. What a coincidence and privilige that we were there on this moment. And then we went for the walk where we for the first time ‘met’ two elephants. Eye in eye! It became really thrilling when one had scented us, scraped his legs, waved his ears, so ‘told’ us not to come closer. Juan whispered where we should run to in case he might decide to attack, but after waiting very silently he turned his back on us and disappeared. It felt like a real confrontation with the power of a wild animal. Back ‘home’ we had breakfast (always top!!) and mailed all our experiences to our children. But the day had more in store for us. At 14.00 hour we all drove off to gamefarm Hope. For the first time in our lives we became acquinted with quad-driving. Fast or slow we drove through the countryside, saw the huge huge Baobab trees, played games with animal droppings and had lots of fun. In the evening we had a traditional dinner, prepared in a pot on a logfire in the Boma of the gamefarm. A very charming place. The way back ‘home’was a 1 ½ hours’ nightdrive. We tried to spot animals but this time they did not show up. Only one big owl surprised us. Again a wonderful day.

Day 5: Again an early wake-up call. This morning we had a bushwalk with ranger Clayton. No elephants this morning but interesting smaller animals and termite mounds. The walks with the rangers are always very interesting because they could tell so much about animals, nature and the environment. So we had very good discussions with them about protection of the whole lot. Breakfast was ready after this bushwalk and the program of the day had a bit changed. Because we could not visit the school (holiday) we went to the reptile park near Hoedspruit. We were very impressed when the English zoologist John demonstrated the most dangerous snakes and learned us that snakes only attack human beings when they feel threatened. On my asking why he worked with these scary animals he said he felt attracted to them because they were the underdogs and the most despised animals. A heartwarming motivation! Shaylock, one of the servants had got a little baby so on our way home we went to a store to buy her a little present. It was a nice way back. Elephants, lots of impala’s, waterbucks and giraffes showed up. Dinner was served on the terrace. With candlelight. Again a perfect day and night.

Day 6: We got used to early getting up!! This morning Breakfast at 4.30 a.m. because we would leave at 5 o’clock for a 2 Days’ tour to the Kruger Park with Clayton. Two and a half hours later we arrived at the gate of the park. And that day Hundreds of Buffalo, Giraffes, Zebra’s, Impala’s, Waterbuck, Gnu, Rhino, beautiful birds, Eagles and more and more passed our eyes. We saw a group of elephants with a baby crossing the road just in front of us. It is moving to see how these huge animals protect their babies. We were hardly able to take it all-in. Of course we would like to spot the Big Five. And we came very near. But at the end of the day we still missed the lion and the leopard. We did not mind but Clayton knew where they mostly hide so he took us to every place where they might be. But they did not show up. We were not disappointed at all because the day had been so full of beauty. These haunting made that the gate had been closed already so we stayed for the night in an appartment in Lower Sabie. There we had a really nice braai and after that, with heads so full of impressions and emotions, we needed a good sleep.

Day 7: Kruger day 2 also started a bit later with getting up at 5 a.m. and breakfast at 5.30 a.m. This day we would travel back to the lodge so at 6.00 a.m. we left Kruger through the gate. Again lots to see during this trip. A beautiful landscape and again there were the animals. A hippo alongside the road, a hyena, crocodiles on the waterfront and beautiful birds. When we were back in Mpala Lodge at 15.15 p.m. we were treated to delicious fruits and then we could do with a lovely swim and get some rest. This day ended with a last dinner in the Boma. So we sang again, had lovely discussions with the managers about development aid and realised that our stay had come to an end.

Day 8: Goodbye-Day!! If you have ever been in a place like this you know that paradise exists. So a goodbye will ever be accompanied by sad feelings. That is what it was like. Again the service had been exceptional because we left with a suitcase full of clean and ironed clothes!! At 10.00 everyone was ready to wave us goodbye. Clayton drove us to the gate where our rental car was still waiting. Although we had one week ahead, our African experience was marked by our stay in Mpala Lodge. When we talk about South Africa we think on this special place on earth where the feeling of being so close to Nature in all its manifestations is incredible and indescribable. We hope and dream to be back one day.

Jolly van Hijum, Holland

Adventures in Africa

Adventures in Africa

Prelude

When I was 17 years old and a high school senior in a small town in Southern Illinois (U.S.), Pernille, came to live with my family and me for the school year as an exchange student from Bornholm, Denmark. Over those nine months, the friendship between Pernille and I grew and we became like sisters. After our senior year, Pernille and I stayed in touch via mail and an occasional telephone call, but over the years we both moved and lost track of each other. Fast forward to Facebook, we found each other again and haven’t stopped communicating since. In July 2015, I took my two sons to visit Pernille and her family in Bornholm and we have since become one modern, international family who I love dearly.

Then, in January 2017, Pernille sent me a message that read “meet me in South Africa in two weeks.” I immediately laughed from my sofa in Northern California where I now live. Who picks up and goes to Africa on a whim?! But, Pernille was persistent and had visited Mpala twice before and knew how magical it is. She told me how incredibly amazing her visits were and a perfect place to relax and have a bit of a “reset…” something we both needed. It didn’t take much to convince me to say YES! Two weeks later, we were off!

Early bird gets the worm! Sunrise over the Olifants River. Wake up calls start at 4 or 5AM at Mpala Safari Lodge. Don’t worry… coffee and breakfast are waiting for you as well as an amazing adventure!

Arriving at Mpala Safari Lodge

After nearly 24 hours of travel that included a two-hour drive to San Francisco and three different flights, I had arrived in South Africa!!! Theo, a ranger at Mpala, met Pernille and I at the Hoedspruit Airport and although I have never met Theo (Pernille had) it was as if an old friend was picking us up at the airport. Pulling out of the airport we immediately spotted giraffe alongside the road… that was just the beginning of a magical week of nature viewing.
Getting to Mpala Safari Lodge requires about a 40-minute drive on what Theo calls “Wake and Shake Road.” It’s a dirt road with a lot of bumps and potholes, and indeed it will keep you hanging on and alert! After the bumpy drive, Mpala’s guest are warmly greeted by the entire team of staff when you pull into the carport. For Pernille (and I’m sure other returning guests) it feels like returning home.

“Wake and Shake Road” on the way to Mpala Safari Lodge. The bush was very green after receiving much needed rain.

Mpala Safari Lodge Staff

My Facebook Post – January 17, 2017 (Day 2 at Mpala Safari Lodge)

Speechless!
Cruising alongside my Danish sister on ATVs in the bush and came around a corner to find this AMAZING creature before us. We were a bit fearless coming up toward the lion until Theo, our ranger, motioned for us to move along quickly as the male lion was getting a little bit too curious about us. This was right after Pernille and I were giggling as a giraffe family (the “bush hippies”) galloped alongside our ATVs for a bit as we drove past. ummm… what?
Still not quite fully processing what is happening before my eyes. After a near 24-hour 3-different flights adventure to arrive near Kruger National Park I am still spent. After arriving at the last airport in Hoedspruit we had a 40-minute drive along a dirt road into Mpala Safari Lodge. Along the way we spotted buffalo, giraffe, zebra, kudu, impalas, jackals, crocodiles, and hippos. Surreal! We had a lovely dinner of spring buck (like an antelope… when in Rome!) and woke up to baboons running all over the front of our chalet. After spotting the lion we were taken to a candlelit dinner in the bush where we were greeted with champagne. Three days of game drives before us. I’m giddy! (and maybe a little bit buzzed from South African wine!) Love!

Place to ourselves (almost)! Pernille and I shared the beautiful lodge with just two other people, a lovely Danish couple (Jens Clausen and Linda Kronsted).

Another highlight of the trip is an ATV ride through the bush! We had so much fun we opted for a second ride later in the week.

Came around a corner on our ATVs to find this guy greeting us! O-M-G!
One of the rangers said it was his first time in 20+ years that he has spotted a lion while on an ATV (lucky us!).

Dining at Mpala Safari Lodge

Dining at Mpala is delicious, fun, and different… zebra, anyone?! Depending on the day’s activities the venue and format for the meal will change. Whether you are enjoying breakfast on the deck overlooking the Olifants River, a Bar-b-que picnic lunch in Kruger National Park, or (my favorite) candlelit dinner in the bush… it’s all amazing!

Candlelight dinner under a bush willow and 1,000 stars… I will take this over a five-star restaurant any day!

Candlelit Dinner is ready in the boma.

Game Drives

Of course one of the highlights of Mpala Safari Lodge are the game drives and walks. The rangers are top-notch, entertaining, and extremely knowledgeable. During our week at Mpala we tracked down four of the Big 5 (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African Leopard)… just missed the rhinoceros, which is the perfect reason for me to return! Mpala Safari Lodge is adjacent to Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in Africa.

Oh hey there, kudus!

Thelma and Louise of the bush! We left the driving up to Theo, but took advantage of plenty of photo opportunities with the jeep!


We spotted this beauty during a game drive in Kruger National Park… amazing!

One of my favorite highlights from our trip to Kruger National Park… What we thought were a few elephants crossing the road turned into a herd of nearly 100 elephants crossing the road. They ranged from a few weeks old (adorable!!!) to over 50 years old. It was truly amazing to witness first-hand the different behaviors. Having well-trained rangers with you, like Theo, turns into quite the wildlife education experience.

Giraffes in the beautiful South African bushveld


We came across this Cape buffalo about 100 meters from our lodge. Theo, our ranger, says it was killed by lions just a few hours earlier. About 50 vultures were flying above the kill afterward. An alarming reminder that Mpala Safari Lodge is practically fenceless and open to Kruger National Park so animals come and go as they please.

Hyena Mama


Vervet monkey mama and baby


Giraffe Kisses


New ranger in town ? This never gets old!

Hippos with your coffee! Mpala Safari Lodge overlooks the Olifants River where we saw hippos swimming every morning over breakfast.

Visit to Diphuti Village School

Mpala Safari Lodge cares about their community. As a way of thanking the local community they provide a contribution to the village elementary school. It was so sweet to visit the school and meet the kids who happily sang a couple of songs for us between classes.

Students at Diphuti Village School

The Drakenberg Mountains

One of the options for an additional experience is a day touring the Drakeberg Mountains. This excursion gives you the opprortunity to explore a very different South African landscape from the bushveld. We spent the day with Theo driving us through small towns (where we got to do a little shopping) and from one amazing view point to the next. Chasing waterfalls in South Africa… highly recommended!


Pernille taking in the view!


Exploring the mountains!


Berlin Falls


Lisbon Falls


“God’s Window”


Local market on our way to the Drakenberg Mountains.

My FaceBook Post – January 25, 2017 (Day 10 at Mpala Safari Lodge)

Leaving South Africa tomorrow with a very full heart. I think it might be impossible to spend 10 days in the wilds of this country without the experience changing you for the better… more grateful, more humble, renewed perspective, greater sense of awe, and absolutely recharged on life.
Thank you for sharing this special time with me, Pernille… I love you. Thank you to Theo Potgieter for sharing your kind heart and love of nature with us!


SKOL!!!

Christmas time at Mpala Safari Lodge

Christmas time at Mpala Safari Lodge

We have entered December and Mpala is prepairing for Christmas.

Because South Africa is located on the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in the summer. Christmas is very hot in South Africa, and that’s the reason why only Christmas trees made of plastic can survive more than a few hours in this climate, so here our Christmas trees are made in more creative forms.

As other years before, December is one of our busiest months. We have a lot of guests spending their holidays at the lodge.

In South Africa the schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and a lot of people like to go camping. In the townships it is a tradition to go caroling and going to the church on Christmas Eve and as in most other christian countries, children leave out stockings for Santa.

Usually the Christmas meal is either turkey (or duck), roast beef, mince pies or suckling pig with yellow rice & raisins and vegetables, followed by Christmas Pudding or a traditional South African desert called Malva Pudding. Because of the heat, the Christmas meal is often eaten outside and some people might even have a barbecue also known as “braai”.

2017 has been a magnificent year with a lot of lovely guests visiting us. We are very pleased with the interest all of you have shown in our small dream of running a lodge in South Africa and we look forward on giving you the times of your lives.

We wish you and your families a very merry christmas.

Yours sincerely

Per & Helle Grunert

 

Returning to Mpala

Returning to Mpala

Does anyone ever win those Facebook contests? I’ve often thought that way, when I’ve browsed the internet, being bombarded with offers of winning this and that. Haven’t you? It’s probably just a way for them to collect permissions to send me newsletters. Even so, I sent my travelogue from my stay at Mpala. Four months later, I received an e-mail from Per (no deals or offers included), stating that I had won the contest. I do have to add, that whenever the contest comes from Mpala, there’s no doubt about the sincerity of the contest. If you are fortunate enough to be admitted into the “family” at Mpala, you would know that it is legitimate.

Once we were done celebrating, we started planning yet another trip to the place I always wanted to go back to. We settled on May 2017. This time I was bringing my son, Darius, aged 14, as a part of his confirmation present. Hopefully a journey and an adventure of a lifetime.

6 years and about 30 hours of travelling later, we finally set foot in Hoedspruit on the 15th of May. The South African wind struck my face and then that old familiar feeling in the stomach of the adventures to come hit me. We left through the small gate at the airport and exited to the parking lot, where we were greeted by the latest member of the family – Dawie the ranger. We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit while we waited for our luggage.

Helle, one of Mpala’s owners, and her daughter Annelise, were waiting in the car and greeted us as we entered. Dawie started the car and off we were. The talking went on in the car, actually, we had such a good time that no one even noticed the Elephant on the roadside welcoming us with its trunk raised. Well… Nevermind, we were back!

After somewhat 20 minutes of driving, we took a turn down the familiar dirt road and then it hit me. I had completely forgotten how long the drive to the lodge is. Thinking about it, I remembered it as a 5-minute drive, which might have been pretty naive. It is a 25-minute drive on a bumpy dirt road. When you drive on it for the first time, it feels like it’s never going to end. But if you want to experience the real African adventure, you have to get as far away from civilization as possible. Half the way down the road we turned around a corner, and there were Per looking for something on his right-hand side. The first ”present” of the day – Buffalos. Buffalos everywhere! Somewhat 30 buffalos had decided to have their breakfast right there. What a way to start off! After taking atleast 50 photos, the last 10 minutes of driving to the lodge went on by fast and a familiar sight came into our view: Mpala Safari Lodge.

There they were again. The Mpala family; greeting us. The chef, the waitresses, the cleaners, the gardeners, the rangers and the manager. I’m writing “again”, cause it all felt the same, even though there has been changes to the staff during the 6 years. A lot of them were the same people though. Somehow it feels like time stopped when I left, but times goes on, even at Mpala. Even though there were some new people, it still felt like I had known these people all my life. Mpala Safari Lodge is truely a magical place.

After the greetings, we got settled in our rooms and went to the porch for a lovely lunch.

 

 

The next morning, the smell of Africa hit the nostrils when we were leaving for our first game drive. A smell that is easily recognizable if you ever visited the lodge before, and if it’s your first time; It’s a part of the adventure. Believe me, it’s not a bad thing, just unusual for our western noses. The time was about 5:30AM, but we were ready. Excited, we sat in the Land Rover and watched the bush as we tumbled down the dirt road. That day we saw antelopes, amongst them a Nyala, a Giraffe and loads of Baboons. Dawie the ranger knows his stuff and has plenty of stories to satisfy even the biggest nature aficionado.

After a short rest back at the lodge, we were out on the second adventure of the day: The quad bikes. We drove around in the huge area and we found out, that dust has a special way of getting into ALL cracks and creases. The good thing about us being there first, was that the next guests probably wouldn’t be able to get as dusty as we did, mainly because I think I removed most of the dust by swallowing it during our drive. On the quad bike tour, we saw Giraffes and a huge male Elephant. The guide went ahead and made a sudden stop. We stayed behind. He came back after a short while. “Up there – Lions”, he said as he pointed. We watched the two young male lions, lying about 80 meters away from us.

“Let’s celebrate this with a refreshment,” he said; “You’re lucky – it’s not too often that we see the lions on the quad bike ride and it’s only the second time I’ve seen them, even though I’ve been on this tour for 25 years.” Later we were told that there were more lions than we could see. They had taken down a giraffe, so the whole pack had to be in the area. Perfect timing!

 

Happy, satisfies and dusty, we returned to the car and Dawie drove us to the bush camp. The camp is quite some distance from the lodge and in the middle of the bush. However, it has a sink with running water and even a toilet. We washed of the dirt and the rest of the night was spent on dinner in the bush and the bright night sky of the southern hemisphere. Later on, back at the lodge, tired and happy after an exciting day, we got under our covers and crawled back in safety behind the mosquito net.

The phone rings; it’s Dawie. It’s early morning and the sun isn’t out yet, but the coffee is ready and we’re going on a bush walk. The largest and only animal we see on our walk is a squirrel. No worries, cause there is a lot of other things to look at, and the sensation of walking in the bush without the safety of the car is quite unique. Just feeling the grass brushing against your legs and seeing the landscape up close is amazing. Besides that, Dawie can tell about all the small things we usually don’t see from the car. The various different kinds of plants and trees, the uses of them amongst the native inhabitants and all the different kind of tracks from the animals.

After lunch, Dawie and Stacey took us to the village school. A visit I especially had looked forward to. The school looks like it did 6 years ago, besides the fact that they now have a computer room, donated by a very generous visitor at Mpala. In the kindergarten, the children are cheering us on, everyone smiling and laughing. “It’s funny how it’s often the people that has the least, that are the happiest”, Dawie said. A sentence I will keep in mind the rest of my life. Nothing is more true, and it suited the situation perfectly. It put our lives into perspective and made me realize how lucky I am.

Onwards to Mpala’s latest project; A local daycare in the village a 5-minute drive from the School. The place is called Mmakadi. In gratitude, the children made a special parking sport for Mpala, written in yellow letters on the pavement is the words “Mpala parking”. We are greeted by the head of the daycare, Gloria. She speaks in pride of the place and tells us about the work they do. She takes us to the room where all the small children sit, eyes peeled. They sing and dance for us, while we all sit back and smile about the fact, that out visit contributes to the support of these poor children. Mpala is very committed to helping out the local residents, and especially the children.

While walking back to the car, all the children sit on the only playing rack, waving goodbye. Mpala and the daycare has plans for renovating the place, with money that comes from the generous donations from Mpala’s guests. I look forward on seeing what has been done, when I return once again.

 

It’s Thursday and the next 2 days are spent in Krüger National Park. We leave early and arrive shortly after the gates are opened. After 10 minutes, Darius wins our small internal contest to spot an animal first. It was an impala. Besides the impala, we see wildebeest and zebras everywhere. We continue on and it doesn’t take long before we spot 4 rhinos grazing in the distance. As we quietly follow them, they come closer and closer. All the other cars have driven by, not noticing anything, so for half an hour we had this amazing sight all to ourselves.

The rest of the day goes on with sightings of elephants, giraffes and antelopes by the masses, before we drive through the gates of Lebata Camp in the late afternoon. Here we will spend the night. It’s a quiet place where the monkeys moan and wait for a moment’s inattention from the poor guard, who hopelessly spins around and tries to chase them away, so they don’t steal the guests’ dinner. An ungrateful job that never stops, but has a lot of entertainment value for the guests.

 

The next morning, we get up early. We’re heading out as soon as the gate opens to see the sunrise. Definitely worth the early wake. Again, we drive around and look. We don’t see much more than elephants and giraffes, but that’s the nature – not every day is the same and one day there can be animals by the masses and the next day might be a lot quieter. We are there on nature’s terms and we will see whatever Krüger decides to offer us that day. If you want to be sure to see all the Big Five every day, go to the zoo. Personally. I prefer to enjoy the gifts that nature brings us.

We didn’t see any lions, hyenas, wild dogs or leopards. But we still got Krüger under the skin and walked away with amazing natural experiences. The advantages of not seeing everything is, that you have the perfect excuse to return again.

The Drakensberg mountains were on Saturday’s schedule. All the well-known places, amazing natural scenery, winding mountain roads and small villages. We also chose an additional experience in the form of a backward bungee jump called “the big swing”. This is usually not something mentioned in the brochure or on the website. It was by chance we came across the subject during the dinner a few days earlier, when Helle mentioned that it was a possibility. Stacey got us booked in for the jump. Now we were nervously and excited waiting for our turn. I was first. I was led to the edge and the instructor got me strapped in, while he was telling me about the procedure. “You’re going to go to the edge, put your heel beyond the board and bend the knees”. He held on to the rope while I was leaning back. And then he let go!

If you’ve ever felt like 4 seconds turned into 20, you know the feeling of a bungee jump. There’s nothing quite like it. The view of the waterfall, falling to the bottom along with me, was indescribable. The elastic rope tightened and I swung away from the rocks. All I could do was to enjoy the ride. Both Darius and Annelise from the lodge tried it too. If you are into adrenaline kicks, I recommend that you ask for this excursion. After the jump, we celebrated it with a pancake at a place called “Harry’s Pancakes” in the small town of Graskop. It’s actually pretty hard to eat pancakes with a big smile on the lips.

The last day arrived upon us. We were going on a river cruise with breakfast on an old steamboat. We slowly sailed away. We were all alone, besides a single other guest that also turned out to be from Denmark. We talked a bit and looked at the animals on the shore and life of the locals doing their daily chores while the pale Danes sailed past.

We end our stay at Mpala with a final game drive and a drink in the watch tower, while the sun sets in the horizon, listening to Dawie telling tall tales and enjoying our last evening to the fullest.

All good things must come to an end and this day came way too soon. We’re going home, but we’re coming back. I never imagined that a week could go by so quickly. Darius had set his mind; he didn’t think that we would ever meet people as nice, as the people at Mpala. It made him wonder, why we were even going to Cape Town to spend the next week. He’d rather stay at Mpala for an additional week. When a 14-year-old boy is longing to stay at a desolate place with slow Wi-Fi and no television – They’re doing everything right!

I feel like saying, that everything at Mpala is the same. That wouldn’t be true. The magic is the same and you will still long to go back, even though you only returned back home. The tranquility is still there. The adventures are still great and you will never get tired of all the things the nature has to offer. My expectations were high and once again they were met, and exceeded.

Mpala, thank you ever so much. I will definitely see you all again.

Sincerely

Kenneth Vikkelsø, May 2017

 

Returning to Mpala

Returning to Mpala

Does anyone ever win those Facebook contests? I’ve often thought that way, when I’ve browsed the internet, being bombarded with offers of winning this and that. Haven’t you? It’s probably just a way for them to collect permissions to send me newsletters. Even so, I sent my travelogue from my stay at Mpala. Four months later, I received an e-mail from Per (no deals or offers included), stating that I had won the contest. I do have to add, that whenever the contest comes from Mpala, there’s no doubt about the sincerity of the contest. If you are fortunate enough to be admitted into the “family” at Mpala, you would know that it is legitimate.

Once we were done celebrating, we started planning yet another trip to the place I always wanted to go back to. We settled on May 2017. This time I was bringing my son, Darius, aged 14, as a part of his confirmation present. Hopefully a journey and an adventure of a lifetime.

6 years and about 30 hours of travelling later, we finally set foot in Hoedspruit on the 15th of May. The South African wind struck my face and then that old familiar feeling of the adventures to come hit me. We left through the small gate at the airport and exited to the parking lot, where we were greeted by the latest member of the family – Dawie the ranger. We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit while we waited for our luggage.

Helle, one of Mpala’s owners, and her daughter Annelise, were waiting in the car and greeted us as we entered. Dawie started the car and off we were. The talking went on in the car, actually, we had such a good time that no one even noticed the Elephant on the roadside welcoming us with its trunk raised. Well… Nevermind, we were back!

After somewhat 20 minutes of driving, we took a turn down the familiar dirt road and then it hit me. I had completely forgotten how long the drive to the lodge is. Thinking about it, I remembered it as a 5-minute drive, which might have been pretty naive. It is a 25-minute drive on a bumpy dirt road. When you drive on it for the first time, it feels like it’s never going to end. But if you want to experience the real African adventure, you have to get as far away from civilization as possible. Half the way down the road we turned around a corner, and there were Per looking for something on his right-hand side. The first ”present” of the day – Buffalos. Buffalos everywhere! Somewhat 30 buffalos had decided to have their breakfast right there. What a way to start off! After taking at least 50 photos, the last 10 minutes of driving to the lodge went on by fast and a familiar sight came into our view: Mpala Safari Lodge.

There they were again. The Mpala family; greeting us. The chef, the waitresses, the cleaners, the gardeners, the rangers and the manager. I’m writing “again”, cause it all felt the same, even though there has been changes to the staff during the 6 years. A lot of them were the same people though. Somehow it feels like time stopped when I left, but times goes on, even at Mpala. Even though there were some new people, it still felt like I had known these people all my life. Mpala Safari Lodge is truly a magical place.

After the greetings, we got settled in our rooms and went to the porch for a lovely lunch.

 

 

The next morning, the smell of Africa hit the nostrils when we were leaving for our first game drive. A smell that is easily recognizable if you ever visited the lodge before, and if it’s your first time; It’s a part of the adventure. Believe me, it’s not a bad thing, just unusual for our western noses. The time was about 5:30AM, but we were ready. Excited, we sat in the Land Rover and watched the bush as we tumbled down the dirt road. That day we saw antelopes, amongst them a Nyala, a Giraffe and loads of Baboons. Dawie the ranger knows his stuff and has plenty of stories to satisfy even the biggest nature aficionado.

After a short rest back at the lodge, we were out on the second adventure of the day: The quad bikes. We drove around in the huge area and we found out, that dust has a special way of getting into ALL cracks and creases. The good thing about us being there first, was that the next guests probably wouldn’t be able to get as dusty as we did, mainly because I think I removed most of the dust by swallowing it during our drive. On the quad bike tour, we saw Giraffes and a huge male Elephant. The guide went ahead and made a sudden stop. We stayed behind. He came back after a short while. “Up there – Lions”, he said as he pointed. We watched the two young male lions, lying about 80 meters away from us.

“Let’s celebrate this with a refreshment,” he said; “You’re lucky – it’s not too often that we see the lions on the quad bike ride and it’s only the second time I’ve seen them, even though I’ve been on this tour for 25 years.” Later we were told that there were more lions than we could see. They had taken down a giraffe, so the whole pack had to be in the area. Perfect timing!

Happy, satisfies and dusty, we returned to the car and Dawie drove us to the bush camp. The camp is quite some distance from the lodge and in the middle of the bush. However, it has a sink with running water and even a toilet. We washed of the dirt and the rest of the night was spent on dinner in the bush and the bright night sky of the southern hemisphere. Later on, back at the lodge, tired and happy after an exciting day, we got under our covers and crawled back in safety behind the mosquito net.

The phone rings; it’s Dawie. It’s early morning and the sun isn’t out yet, but the coffee is ready and we’re going on a bush walk. The largest and only animal we see on our walk is a squirrel. No worries, cause there is a lot of other things to look at, and the sensation of walking in the bush without the safety of the car is quite unique. Just feeling the grass brushing against your legs and seeing the landscape up close is amazing. Besides that, Dawie can tell about all the small things we usually don’t see from the car. The various different kinds of plants and trees, the uses of them amongst the native inhabitants and all the different kind of tracks from the animals.

After lunch, Dawie and Stacey took us to the village school. A visit I especially had looked forward to. The school looks like it did 6 years ago, besides the fact that they now have a computer room, donated by a very generous visitor at Mpala. In the kindergarten, the children are cheering us on, everyone smiling and laughing. “It’s funny how it’s often the people that has the least, that are the happiest”, Dawie said. A sentence I will keep in mind the rest of my life. Nothing is more true, and it suited the situation perfectly. It put our lives into perspective and made me realize how lucky I am.

Onwards to Mpala’s latest project; A local daycare in the village a 5-minute drive from the School. The place is called Mmakadi. In gratitude, the children made a special parking spot for Mpala, written in yellow letters on the pavement is the words “Mpala parking”. We are greeted by the head of the daycare, Gloria. She speaks in pride of the place and tells us about the work they do. She takes us to the room where all the small children sit, eyes peeled. They sing and dance for us, while we all sit back and smile about the fact, that out visit contributes to the support of these poor children. Mpala is very committed to helping out the local residents, and especially the children.

While walking back to the car, all the children sit on the only playing rack, waving goodbye. Mpala and the daycare has plans for renovating the place, with money that comes from the generous donations from Mpala’s guests. I look forward on seeing what has been done, when I return once again.

It’s Thursday and the next 2 days are spent in Krüger National Park. We leave early and arrive shortly after the gates are opened. After 10 minutes, Darius wins our small internal contest to spot an animal first. It was an impala. Besides the impala, we see wildebeest and zebras everywhere. We continue on and it doesn’t take long before we spot 4 rhinos grazing in the distance. As we quietly follow them, they come closer and closer. All the other cars have driven by, not noticing anything, so for half an hour we had this amazing sight all to ourselves.

The rest of the day goes on with sightings of elephants, giraffes and antelopes by the masses, before we drive through the gates of Lebata Camp in the late afternoon. Here we will spend the night. It’s a quiet place where the monkeys moan and wait for a moment’s inattention from the poor guard, who hopelessly spins around and tries to chase them away, so they don’t steal the guests’ dinner. An ungrateful job that never stops, but has a lot of entertainment value for the guests.

The next morning, we get up early. We’re heading out as soon as the gate opens to see the sunrise. Definitely worth the early wake. Again, we drive around and look. We don’t see much more than elephants and giraffes, but that’s the nature – not every day is the same and one day there can be animals by the masses and the next day might be a lot quieter. We are there on nature’s terms and we will see whatever Krüger decides to offer us that day. If you want to be sure to see all the Big Five every day, go to the zoo. Personally. I prefer to enjoy the gifts that nature brings us.

We didn’t see any lions, hyenas, wild dogs or leopards. But we still got Krüger under the skin and walked away with amazing natural experiences. The advantages of not seeing everything is, that you have the perfect excuse to return again.

The Drakensberg mountains were on Saturday’s schedule. All the well-known places, amazing natural scenery, winding mountain roads and small villages. We also chose an additional experience in the form of a backward bungee jump called “the big swing”. This is usually not something mentioned in the brochure or on the website. It was by chance we came across the subject during the dinner a few days earlier, when Helle mentioned that it was a possibility. Stacey got us booked in for the jump. Now we were nervously and excited waiting for our turn. I was first. I was led to the edge and the instructor got me strapped in, while he was telling me about the procedure. “You’re going to go to the edge, put your heel beyond the board and bend the knees”. He held on to the rope while I was leaning back. And then he let go!

If you’ve ever felt like 4 seconds turned into 20, you know the feeling of a bungee jump. There’s nothing quite like it. The view of the waterfall, falling to the bottom along with me, was indescribable. The elastic rope tightened and I swung away from the rocks. All I could do was to enjoy the ride. Both Darius and Annelise from the lodge tried it too. If you are into adrenaline kicks, I recommend that you ask for this excursion. After the jump, we celebrated it with a pancake at a place called “Harry’s Pancakes” in the small town of Graskop. It’s actually pretty hard to eat pancakes with a big smile on the lips.

The last day arrived upon us. We were going on a river cruise with breakfast on an old steamboat. We slowly sailed away. We were all alone, besides a single other guest that also turned out to be from Denmark. We talked a bit and looked at the animals on the shore and life of the locals doing their daily chores while the pale Danes sailed past.

We end our stay at Mpala with a final game drive and a drink in the watch tower, while the sun sets in the horizon, listening to Dawie telling tall tales and enjoying our last evening to the fullest.

All good things must come to an end and this day came way too soon. We’re going home, but we’re coming back. I never imagined that a week could go by so quickly. Darius had set his mind; he didn’t think that we would ever meet people as nice, as the people at Mpala. It made him wonder, why we were even going to Cape Town to spend the next week. He’d rather stay at Mpala for an additional week. When a 14-year-old boy is longing to stay at a desolate place with slow Wi-Fi and no television – They’re doing everything right!

I feel like saying, that everything at Mpala is the same. That wouldn’t be true. The magic is the same and you will still long to go back, even though you only returned back home. The tranquility is still there. The adventures are still great and you will never get tired of all the things the nature has to offer. My expectations were high and once again they were met, and exceeded.

Mpala, thank you ever so much. I will definitely see you all again.

Sincerely

Kenneth Vikkelsø, May 2017