The next morning we had a lovely breakfast in the dining room while the porters took our luggage to the front. We grabbed an Uber, which we quickly learned would be our lifeline in South Africa, and headed to the Cape Town airport. A 2 hour flight on Comair (yes that Comair–headquartered in Erlanger, Kentucky) and we landed in Durban. We went to pick up our rental car, which did not go very smoothly. The clerk was very Expedia-hostile, the first of several people we found who discriminated against us because we used the service. He gave us a good old Kelly Conway for about 20 minutes before we agreed on some terms for the rental and drove off.
I knew about 10 minutes into this drive that it would be a long one. The road was tricky and the car was big–essentially a Toyota Sequoia. John was not feeling comfortable driving the car on the non-divided highway, and the other drivers were super aggressive. It took us 3 hours to get to the gate of Imfolozi Game Park. Then another 40 minutes to get to Rhino Ridge Lodge. We kept our eyes open for game, and I’m glad we did because we came upon a grazing pack of impala who looked up at us as if to invite us to the party. They were in no hurry to get out of the road, so we simply parked and took pictures until they decided to pass. By the time we arrived at the lodge we were so lucky to have staff greet us very warmly, take the keys (goodbye Toyota!) and hand us juice and hot towels.
The lovely Chennai gave us a short orientation and then took us to our villa. It was really stunning. It had a large balcony, indoor/outdoor shower, fireplace, freestanding tub, and lounge area. I wished I could stay forever! The view of the park was wide and expansive, and we could see three elephants in the valley below. I noticed our welcome note was addressed to Dylan and Josh, so I called the desk just to make sure we had not stolen their room! We were assured we were in the right place.
The lodge included full board and two game drives a day. It was chilly, so we enjoyed playing cards by the fire before dinner. Then we ate, had a fire lit in the room, and snuggled up for a good night’s sleep in anticipation of our 5:00 alarm. The 6:00 game drive would come soon.
After some coffee we piled into a safari Jeep with a family of four: Pete, Kathryn, and surprise! Dylan and Josh, who were 10 and 12. We had a nice chuckle about how differently we had pictured them. Then we set off onto the road and quickly came to a stop to watch a family of young lions just off the road in a bush. The young lady was having a rest and it was apparent she had not had her coffee yet. Lots of yawning and drowsy eyes. Behind her were two young males who were also sleepy, though they seemed like they might be ready to move on. Soon enough, they group migrated across the road and down the valley.
Next we went to a watering hole where we got to see some wildebeest, warthogs, and rhinos. This experience was already so different from our last safari in Tanzania, where we visited Ngorogoro crater and Serengeti park. Imfolozi was much more intimate. I felt like I would be able to get to know the animals, even though we had very little time here. They were fewer and far between, but we could remember their faces each time we saw them.
We continued our drive and saw some giraffes at a long distance, more rhinos, and plenty of impala. Soon it was time to head back to the lodge for breakfast.
John and I had already decided to sign up for the bush walk, which started at 10:30. John and I waited for a while until Xolani told me, “Nunu is just getting the rifle from the safe.” I smiled and laughed. Oh of course. The rifle from the safe! Xolani assured me we were fine–that it was just for firing warning shots and for making us look bigger than we actually are.
Soon Nunu, Xolani, John and I piled into a different Jeep and drove to the spot where that very morning we had seen the lions. Hm. Okay! I thought. I’m game. Once on foot, Nunu and Xolani took our hands, the four of us forming a circle. Nunu and Xolani are both Zulu, and they welcomed us to their land. Nunu asked, “Why do you want to enter the bush?” Both John and I stuttered our answers, feeling so humbled. “To be on the ground,” John said. “To be more quiet.” I said.
Once they were satisfied with our answers, Nunu explained we would walk in a single file line. He would be first, then me, then John, then Xolani. We could take pictures but there would be no talking and we were to watch Nunu’s hand signals carefully. Nunu hiked barefoot, and I watched his feet as they covered the same prickly ground as mine. Soon we arrived at the morning’s first watering hole. We could see three huge Rhinos about 20 feet away.
We started walking towards them, and one of the three took off to the left while the other two started walking parallel to us on the right. They were, um, huge. And it seemed like they were gentle and sweet but I’m sure I’m anthropomorphizing. Plus they were snorting and growling a little, clearly wanting to meet back up with that third friend. Nunu made himself extra large by carrying the rifle across his shoulders. That way John and I could get plenty of pictures of the rhinos, who were now about 10 feet away. Then Nunu said to me, “Now would be a good time to get a selfie.”
Soon we came upon the watering hole, and the Wildebeest were not really all that pleased with us. They were grunting and snorting, and a pack of warthogs then started to close in. So we turned and walked the other way. We hiked back to where we had seen the lion that morning, and down a drainage towards a large watering hole. We all sat, and Xolani handed us waters and pears from his backpack. Soon giraffes and zebras appeared at the edge of the water and started to drink. The extra big giraffe was super inquisitive, and kept tilting his neck to get a better look at us. Soon John said, “Um, there are several warthogs about 10 feet behind me.” And there they were! But Nunu and Xolani weren’t worried.
After our little rest we started back up the drainage, and Nunu slowed and asked us to sit. He said he thought he saw the lady lion who had been in the bushes that morning. We sat for a while but did not see her, so we stood up and walked towards a large tree, and there she was! She turned to look at us over her shoulder, then hurried back down her own path.
We got back to the lodge in time for tea, and then we had one more game drive. It was lovely to see some of the same animals again, and the evening ended on a bluff with a beautiful sunset. Our guide set up a bar on his tailgate and we were able to have a proper sundowner while saying goodbye to the park.
At dinner that night, the entire staff sang Happy Birthday to John in traditional zulu. It was really stunning and amazing. We went back to the room and slept like the dead. What a wonderful visit.