”If you can manage the trip down here – we can take care of the rest”
That was the words, when I met Per at a spring-exhibition in April, 2014 in Hillerød. I’ve dreamed about a trip to South Africa for so long, but since I’ve become partly bound to a wheelchair I almost gave up on that idea. Now here’s the opportunity – The doctors and my insurance agent gave a green light – I’m going.
“To wake up to the lions roar or to see the elephants when they go down to the river to bathe and forage at night is an everyday experience in South Africe. Whoops.. There’s a monkey running over the porch. Yesterday a baboon ran through the main house with an apple in it’s mouth. Irene, one of the employees, and I were standing in the doorway. We were very surprised but couldn’t help laughing. Yesterday, at breakfast, a hippo was swimming right by the river where we live” – This was the start of my letter to my grandchildren back when I visited Mpala Safari Lodge back in 2014.
At my arrival, I was greeted in an amazing way. All of the staff was in a single row to greet and welcome me. On the first week, I was the only guest at the lodge, in the second week there were three of us, but even when I was the only guest, every scheduled activity was completed.
I was at the Game Drive twice, where I on my own rode an ATV right by Giraffes, Impalas and a lot of other exciting animals. The tours where approximately around 23 and 30 kilometers, which I handled quite good. Since I’m used to riding on a motorscooter, I weren’t afraid at any point, because I knew safety wasn’t an issue.
Theo, one of the rangers, rode behind me in a jeep and was standby to help if any kind trouble should arrive. The feeling of being able to ride with the others was wonderful – It made me feel like I didn’t have any kind of disability. After all of these long and beautiful rides, we came to the Mpala Bush Camp, a big open camp with a fireplace and even toilets and a sink with tapwater – Would you imagine, fresh water in the middle of the bush! The starry nights was beautiful. We even saw the Southern Cross, a starformation you can only see on the southern hemisphere.
One of the highlights of my trip, was the two times two days, where we drove around in the Kruger National Park, an area the size of Jutland (30 square kilometers). The wildebeest were walking in a long row to get to the riverbank to get a drink, and back in the same formation – Just like a kindergarten on excursion. The Hippos were laying on the banks, tanning, while the Impalas were fooling around. The Elephants were standing in the middle of row, right in front of our car, and the Giraffes were looking at us curiously. If I had a 10-meter-long arm, I could have scratched the Elephants behind their ears or if I were any good at pole vault I could have landed of the back of the Giraffes. A lion was laying by the roadside, but it had a bad paw, and could barely move.
Around 4-500 Buffalos were walking on the plain nearby, but the most exciting was the two Leopards that hung their dinner in a nearby tree. The had killed an Impala and brought it to the tree, so the other animals couldn’t get to it. The Leopards were at the base of the tree, looking out. We were staying in the car.
On both occasions, we spent the night in a camp in Kruger. On the first of the tours the monkeys were very indiscreet. While Julie (Our Danish assistand) sad by her tent, a monkey came in, so she had to chase it out. Julie and Theo even went rat-hunting in my tent. They never caught it, so maybe the rat slept under my bed.
The Elephants wander right across the savannah and tumble over a lot of trees. On several occasions Theo and Julie had to get out of the car to cut the branches, so we could move on. Meanwhile I was on the lookout for Lions and Leopards.
There has been a lot of other experiences than Kruger. The Lodge and it’s guests sponsor a village school with kids from the age of 6 to 12, aswell as a kindergarten. It was an amazing experience to visit these children. I was very excited of how they would react to my wheelchair, but to my surprise they were very kind and curious. They all wanted to touch me and I almost felt like a celebrity. They were very interested in the wheelchair and at any given time, there were 20-30 kids around me all wanting to give high-fives.
When the some of the kindergarten kids sang us a song, a small girl wanted to sit on my lap, while the others performed. What an amazing experience, and I defitinely lost my heart to this little girl. She looked so sad, no brightness in her eyes, no mimic, just sitting there, quiet. I wonder what she has gone through in such a short life.
My legs are aching, and I’m a bad walker, but it was never a problem. At all of the airports I was helped along getting from one airplane to the other. At Mpala, I was helped too, either by wheelchair or by car. Sometimes I wasn’t even allowed to go from my chalet to the main house. If they could drive me to my chalet, they wanted to. Even the kids at the school wanted to help me.
When I was to leace, all of the staff were where we started, giving me a lovefilled farewell. Even at the airport, Nelson Mandela wished me well.
So what did this trip mean to me? Besides the beautiful surroundings and the experience of the animals in their own habitat, I have met the most amazing gestures, a wonderful trip to the Drakens mountains, the rides on the ATV and not to forget the trip to the school and the kindergarten. There one other thing I brought back home: I managed a trip to South Africa, all by myself, I managed to participate in all of the tours and get this amazing experience, even though I’m in a wheelchair. Until a couple of years ago, I was able to walk normally. This trip has given me the energy and willpower – You can accomplish a lot if you have the courage and will to plan ahead.
I am deeply grateful that I succeeded. With the title “Safari in a wheelchair” and the subtitle “Set a goal for yourself”, I now lecture about my trip to South Africa. I, of course, show the a slideshow and tell about my trip, but the main focus is on “If you have a dream – Pursue it”. This is no matter of if the dream is a trip from Hillerød to Copenhagen or a journey to South Africa. It is so important that we try to live out our dreams, and that we set goals for ourselves.
A special thank you to Per for our completely random talk at the Spring-exhibiton I 2014, and to the employees at Mpala – I were all a part of me fulfilling my dream.