Dear Ingvild and Sindre.
Greetings from grandmother on safari
Waking up to the lion roar or see and hear the elephants when they come to the river at in the evening to eat grass and to take a bath are everyday experiences here in South Africa. Hey – now I get a visit from a monkey here on the terrace! Yesterday a baboon came into The Main House (where we dine) and grab an apple from the fruit bowl. Irene (the waitress) and I was standing near the door. How did we get surprised, but then we laughed about the experience! Yesterday, when we had breakfast, a hippopotamus walked across the river right in front of my chalet. I am experiencing many interesting things that I wish you could also see. However, since you are not here I am sending you this travel letter about some of my experiences that you may save and read when you get a little older. Perhaps mom and dad read it for you now ?
Two weeks ago, I flew from Denmark to the airport in Hoedspruit in South Africa via the airports of Paris and Johannesburg. The journey went so well, and in Hoedspruit, Theo, one of the rangers from the lodge, picked me up. After an hour of driving, we came to the lodge, located directly on the bank of the Olifants River (Elephant River). The last 40 minutes of the drive from the airport went through the bush of the nature reserve, and already there I saw the first animals: impalas, baboons, guinea fowl, elephants, etc.
On arrival I was given a fantastic welcome. The entire staff stood in a row to receive and welcome me. The lodge has a young Dane who helps with interpreting for me, and many other practical tasks. Julie is the Danish assistant, and we have a really good time together. Last week, I was the only guest – on Monday came a married couple, so now we are three guests at the lodge. There is room for 12 guests in 6 double rooms, but even then I was the only guest, the entire tour program was implemented as planned – just for me.
Twice I have been on game drive through the bush on a quad bike (a four-wheeled motorcycle like a mega version of my electric scooter) past the giraffes, elephants and many other exciting animals. Last week we drove 23 km. – Tuesday we drove 30 km. I managed the drives in very fine style, and I believe that both Theo and Julie was impressed with me! Believe me; it was funny and strange to drive so close to the animals. I was never afraid, for I knew that security was top notch. Julie was in front and Theo drove behind me in a jeep and was ready to help if necessary. The roads were very bumpy, so many places I had to keep my tongue straight in my mouth. After these long and scenic tours, we arrived to Mpala’s bush camp, which is a large barbecue area with such modern facilities as toilet and wash sink of marble with running water – would you believe running water and toilet in the middle of the bush far away from everything! The starry sky was so beautiful with the “Southern Cross” – a zodiac, which we can’t see in our homely northern hemisphere in Denmark or with you in Norway – it can be seen only in the southern hemisphere.
Last week we had a visit from a Sotho tribe, who sang and danced for us in their original costumes. They had the cutest little girl about two years with – how cute she was. I thought a lot of you. In a center for endangered animals, where they are breeding cheetahs to release in the wild, I was allowed to pat a cheetah. The zookeeper took good care of both the cheetah and me and we were both comfortable with the situation.
Tour highlights were the two times of two days, where we went on a game drive in the Kruger National Park – an area the size of Jutland. Wildebeest walking in a long row down to the river to drink and home in the same order – like a school class. Hippos lying on the banks sunning themselves while Impalas were playing around. The elephants standing on the road right in front of the car, and giraffes looked curiously at us. If I had a 10 meter long arm I could have scratched the elephants behind their ears, or if I was good at pole vault, I could have jumped up on the backs of giraffes. A lion was lying on the roadside, but its one paw was poor, so even I could almost have run from it.
400-500 buffalo went on the savannah right close to us, but the most exciting was that two leopards had hung dinner up in a tree. They had killed an impala and dragged it up the tree so that other animals could not get hold of it. The Leopards lay at the foot of the tree protecting their food. We did not consider leaving the car!
On both trips to Kruger National Park we spent the night in a camp in Kruger. On the first trip the monkeys were very intrusive. While Julie sat outside her house, a monkey ran into her house, and she had to chase it out.
The elephants are tearing down a lot of trees. Back home at Mpala’s private part of Kruger Theo and Julie several times had to get out of the car to remove the turned over trees to clear the road so we could continue. Meanwhile, I was helping by watching for lions and leopards!
There have been many other experiences than the trips to Kruger. The lodge and its guests sponsors part to a village school with native children from 6- 12 years and a kindergarten. On Wednesday we visited the school. The lodge has donated for the construction of new classrooms, and many of us guests donate a school uniform for a child. The children were incredibly sweet. They all wanted to touch me, and I think that this must be how the queen must feel when she is on a visit. They were very interested in my wheelchair and I had constantly 20-30 small african children standing around me, touching me, giving me “high five”. When some children from kindergarten sang for us, a little black girl crept up and sat on my lap – we sat like that for 5-10 minutes while the other children were singing. It was absolutely stunning !
For many, many years there has been very great discrimination between people who are born black and people who are born white (apartheid). The black children were not allowed to go to school with white children – they were not allowed on the same busses, shop in the same stores, etc., But fortunately this was changed in 1994. Nevertheless, there was only black children in “our” school; their parents are so poor that they can’t afford to pay school fees, which most white parents can. Many of the children’s parents have died of AIDS, so they live with her grandparents. Many people in South Africa are so poor that they can’t afford to build a “real” house, but living in small shacks. Anyway, it seemed these children were so incredibly happy and grateful. Now I am thinking about your kindergarten, where in addition to many Norwegian children there are also children from Syria and Afghanistan. Your father and mother have the money to buy clothes, food, books, etc. to you – even go on holiday, which some of the foreign children from the school may not have been. I am so grateful for the good conditions we have at home. We must remember to think of it.
You are well aware that I am walking very badly, but it’s no problem to me here. In all the airports I got help to get from one plane to the next. Here at Mpala they are helping me with getting around everywhere – either by car or in a wheelchair. If I asked them to drive me the whole way into my chalet, they would do it! Even the kids at school wanted to help! Yesterday, I gave Theo and Julie a “license for wheelchair” that I had made for them. It really have deserved it!
During the years I have had countless good summer experiences. As your father and aunt were children we were often camping in Skagen, Jutland or at great-grandmother’s home on Stevns. Two years ago, when you were four and one year old, we had a wonderful week together in a summerhouse by the North Sea. I have even been with your father and aunt to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. But I think that this holiday is the best of all – or the most special and thought provoking. I have seen a lot of interesting animals in their natural environments. I’ve enjoyed “freedom” by driving on the quad bikes. However, best of all I’ve seen the incredible sweet and grateful young children in school, and the very poor conditions in which they live. How lucky we are to live in Denmark and Norway. We must remember to appreciate.
I think I got an extra “gift” with me home: I could manage to travel to South Africa alone. To participate in all the trips and get this unforgettable experience despite my wheelchair. I am sure that the trip has given me a lot of new energy and self-confidence – One can do much if one has the guts to it and you have planned as much as possible. I am deeply grateful that I have succeeded. Now I look forward to coming home and to tell you more about the trip and show a lot of pictures. See you at the summerhouse to July.