Parting thoughts of our African sojourn that certainly had variety — exotic animals, lush rain forest, adventures in transport, and gorgeous sea and surf:
We bid adieu to White Pearl Resort staff around noon on Tuesday (March 5) as we climbed aboard a Piper Cherokee 6 aircraft, following a 45-minute drive that led to a remote clearing, a small building, the aircraft and grass runway. There was just enough room for pilot, the four of us and our luggage. The takeoff and landing strip was in need of good Cape buffalo grazing. Sam, the resort manager, came along in the luggage vehicle to evaluate this means of transport as a backup to the out-of-service helicopter.
Laura, who flew Cherokees in her early pilot days, seemed at ease, and so without reservation — and no security line to go through — we went aboard and soon were off into the wild-blue-yonder.
The runway was ready for takeoff?
What made the flight even better was flying over the car ferry terminal in Maputu. The transport took a little over an hour instead of the jarring 5-hour ordeal it took to arrive.
We tipped the pilot, keeping just a few hundred Mozambique currency "meddicals" for the all-important shrink-wrapping of our luggage, as advised by our South African acquaintance back home, Leigh-Anne. The pilot said, "Wow!" when Laura answered "commercial DC-9" to his question about what size plane she now captains.
Last night's dinner was in the dark as electricity failed for a good length of time. The White Pearl resort staff hustled about with "torches" — an African term for flashlight — to make sure all rooms were candlelit in addition to the expansive boardwalk and common buildings, especially the dining areas. The candlelight enhanced the ambience.
By the time we arrived back to the room, the power was back on.
We checked out at 11:15 the next morning, giving us time for another walk on the beach, and it proved to be one last hurrah. Teresa, Katy and Laura discovered a newly-hatched sea turtle coming out of a crab hole. Finding turtles is a favorite vacation past time of the Nielsen women, and we were told that the last hatchings took place a few weeks ago. Laura showed one of her photos of the sighting to the resort manager, who had yet to see one in her time here.
Laura heard back from the Cybele Resort about the disappointing bush dinner in Kruger. The resort manager appreciated her feedback about the difficulty of scheduling more than one excursion a day due to its remoteness. The resort refunded the cost of the dinner, which pleased Laura and will earn Cybele a good rating. The resort was always checking on our satisfaction and corrected any problems.
The captain of the excursion boat told Laura and Katy that the Chinese, who are already operating a concrete factory that we rode past en route to White Pearl, are pushing to gain the rights to ship coal from this area. Captain Jazz was concerned because the Chinese also want all fishing rights, and the shipping operation would devastate the coral and probably drive away dolphins and other marine life.
You would assume the Mozambique government would have had enough of foreign control of its resources. The Mozambique people, I forgot to mention earlier, continue to speak in the colonial language of the Portuguese. Teresa and I have several first-generation Portuguese friends in our Old Orchard Beach condominium, and they would be quite at home here.
As I close out this African adventure blog, I hope readers have learned a little more about South Africa and Mozambique and maybe you’ve been inspired to go on safari. Laura will surely return to Africa, maybe Nambia, and she has been trying to persuade Teresa and I to join her in climbing Kilimanjaro She wants to take the gradual trek that takes 9 days.
Our guide Patrick gave me some tips on handling the rifle, just in case.
I will attempt to stay in contact with our Savanna guide Patrick by email and maybe Skype. Upon observing my blogging around the WIFI connection at the lodge, Patrick asked if I would help him to tell his story, in words and pictures. And, pardon, the pun, I’m game. We will send him a copy of the souvenir book Teresa, Laura and I will put together of our photos and blog installments. Just maybe the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs will help spring forth interesting tales of an African native whose respect and life work interacting with these wondrous African beasts would make Tarzan proud
Text By Augie Favazza
Photos by Teresa Favazza
The last two days of our African adventure have been a time for tranquil relaxation. We rise early, go stroll the beach and treasure hunt for sea shells. Then, we sit down to a breakfast of our choice after our waiter brings out the tempting continental tray.
Hunting for “keeper” shells is comparable to hunting for an errant golf ball in the woods. Surprisingly, I found a few unique shell formations to add to Teresa’s growing collection. At least the shells won’t weigh down our return luggage. On trips to Italy, I have lugged back much heavier stone mementos.
The weather has been better than forecast, and it is easy to get burnt by the bright sun. Our faithful butler Aboo set up a cabana tent for us and inquired if there were any plans for Laura’s official 50th birthday. Aboo noticed that Teresa and I went down at 6 a.m. to “write” birthday wishes in the sand below Laura’s and Katy’s bungalow.
At breakfast, we did meet a young couple from Boston, newly-arrived, and they asked about the weather and our stay thus far. They too came by the same rough, dirt road, but their ride was scheduled because the young lawyer was afraid to transport by helicopter due to a recent court case involving a crash. They were transported in a van that hit bottom quite often en route, and they were worried that a blown tire might leave them stranded. After the rough road in, they have gotten over their fear of helicopters and want to lift out.
We found out though the chopper is not back in service, and the plan now is for us to take a small aircraft — apparently there is an old military airstrip nearby – back to the Maputo airport, then to Johannesburg, onto Kennedy Airport, with a final leg on Jet Blue to Portland, Maine. Katy has the toughest trip home, all the way to Portland, Oregon.
We had to push hard to get the Zodiac craft back into the surf and off to find dolphins.
Laura and Katy decided to celebrate the 50th birthday by taking a snorkel excursion followed by a swim with dolphins. The twin-engine Zodiac craft came right onto the beach to pick them up. We sat out the excursions because Teresa has a history of inner ear problems and didn’t want to chance a complication. I don’t do well in small craft. The boat’s takeoff from shore required riding through some heavy surf. I did help push the boat back into the rushing tide, along with a half dozen resort workers.
The snorkeling was good, according to Laura and Katy. They did find dolphins and swam with three juveniles from a large pod that the boat captain said were in a rest position.
We closed our stay with Sundowner champagne toast to Laura’s official 50th birthday and to a great trip to Africa.
Before our final dinner and another birthday cake, an authentic native drum and dance group entertained and also sang a Mozambique version of Happy Birthday with drums beating over the crackle of a bonfire.
One last piece of birthday cake.
POSTSCRIPT — The stars last night were bold and bright since we are staying at a very secluded oceanfront resort. Orion is as easy to pick out in the southern hemisphere sky as it seen in the northern sector, which surprises me. I think I located the Southern Cross, a new sight for us, but we’re not sure if that is the right constellation. There are so many resplendent starry formations. We did ask a South African couple before dinner if they could identify the Southern Cross, but they were not sure. I remember asking Edward, our driver, on the return to Cybele after the Kruger Bush Dinner Bust to point out the constellation, but we both forgot as we said goodbye.
It was 6:30 a.m. and the sun had come up over the Indian Ocean. Our oceanfront bungalow provided a great vantage point of a deserted, pristine sand beach with aqua green waves crashing.
The sight reminded me of that closing scene in the movie “Shawshank Redemption” where Red makes his way up a deserted Mexican beach. There he finally re-unites with Andy Dufresne, whose message of hope — no matter what “prison walls” you face — will lead you to a good place in life. And, we, too, found a well-deserved Shangri-La , after yesterday’s arduous journey in which we never gave up hope. Yes, hope is a good thing, and maybe the best thing.
Today was a day to relax and enjoy this idyllic setting. Our bungalow is quite comfortable and offers complete privacy with wraparound decking, mini bar, and limited WIFI. We also share a butler named Aboo with Laura and Kate. We can summon Aboo anywhere on the property by calling him on the cell phone White Pearl provides during your stay. It’s almost as good as rubbing a genie’s bottle.
Our butler Aboo served us champagne on the beach.
Teresa and I went for a 4-mile stroll on the beach. Teresa loves to collect shells and other beach mementos from all parts of the world. The treasures were all hers to find. It was so nice to be able to walk off our delicious, leisurely breakfast served on the restaurant oceanfront deck with Laura and Katy.
The White Pearl resort is a series of tiered white-stained clapboard beachfront bungalows with individual buildings for reception, library-lounge, pool bar, game room and dining room with that gorgeous shiny white baby grand. The manager opened the piano to its full height and told to play to my hearts content at last night’s dinner. The Yamaha baby grand has a wonderful touch and was a pleasure to play during dinner.
The white Yamaha baby grand had a great touch!
“Usually our guests need a few cocktails before anyone plays the piano,’” the manager added. “Many of the other guests wanted to know if you had music. I told them there were no notes.” The four of us judged my African debut last night a success.
Teresa had a 11 a.m. massage after we returned from the beach walk. I took the time to go back to the piano which faces open, oceanfront windows of the dining room. The sound of the pounding tide filled in nicely with the music. It was great fun. A hotel staffer brought me a cup of coffee when I declined an alcoholic beverage and encouraged me to play on.
The weather has been decent, given this is the rainy season in Mozambique. The partly cloudy skies that actually made it pleasant to walk the beach because midday sun is vey bright even for snowbirds like Teresa and me. The ocean water temperature is probably 10 degrees warmer than the surf in summer in Old Orchard Beach.
Laura and Katy had afternoon massages, and we met for Sundowner cocktails at the hotel bar. Laura said she heard the helicopter come in this afternoon. When she later inquired about the status of the chopper, she was told of a recurring problem with a starter. Mechanics were on the way to make repairs. We have our fingers crossed.
There’s that message of hope again, that we will be quickly and safely lifted by helicopter to the Maputo airport when we leave on Tuesday.
Text by Augie Favazza
Photos by Laura Nielsen
Our transfer from Cybele Resort was going to be a challenge, as planned, because we had to be transported by van 4 hours to the border of Mozambique, through customs on both sides, and then on to the Maputo airport where we were booked to go by helicopter to the White Pearl Resort. That was supposed to be a 30-minute excursion by chopper, putting us on the beach at White Pearl around noon. Instead, the helicopter was reported out of service, and we had to take an additional 4-hour Timbuktu trek through midday congestion of a capital city teeming with heavy vehicle traffic and a mass of humanity. It was a true, third-world-country experience.
On the first leg, from Cybele to Maputo, we were in the hands of a driver named Excellent. He proved his namesake as we arrived at customs and whisked us through the line warning “us to hold on to our passports”.
It paid off that we had gotten our visas in D.C. because it shortened the process at least by a half hour.
Now in Mozambique, you saw an immediate change in the cultural landscape. Heaps of trash along the road. Makeshift stands with vendors hawking linens, clothing, jewelry. Excellent, our guide, had remarked it was his easiest crossing, and that his white driver cohorts do not take fares into Mozambique. Then, unfortunately, he was pulled over by the police for speeding. Excellent spent several minutes negotiating a bribe. It took the face of Alexander Hamilton on U.S. bill to satisfy the cops.
“If you do not pay them on the spot, they will take your driver’s license. For that reason, I usually carry a fake license, but this time I didn’t have one. And the only money I had was the U.S. currency,” our driver explained, back behind the wheel.
We felt bad and assured him there was money on the other side of the rainbow, upon arrival at Maputo airport.
At the airport, we wondered how we would locate our next driver? Well, as soon as we stepped out of the vehicle, the driver spotted us easily because we were, of course, the only Caucasians in the terminal area.
We were surprised that part of our journey was by ferry.
Our next ride was in a Toyota Land Cruiser, and we thought we only had a two-hour trip ahead, at most. After an hour snaking through heavy traffic through the center of the city, streets lined with people, including vendors of all sorts, our driver pulled up to a ferry terminal. Surprise! We were going by ferry a part of the way. We were a little nervous. All of us had visions of a news reports of an overly-crowded third-world ferry sinking. You couldn’t have loaded more vehicles or people on deck. But 30 minutes hence, we drove off amidst the locals on foot — the women in bright-colored dresses with bundles balanced on their heads.
The ice cream lady, in very colorful dress, headed home via a crowded ferry after the lunch-hour rush.
What followed was a 2-hour drive — all on dirt — through sparsely populated lowlands. The Toyota GPS showed White Pearl as a solitary dot on the screen, on the ocean, and no roads in sight.
The final 100 kilometer leg to White Pearl was on a rough-and-tumble dirt road.
The White Pearl staff was there to greet us, and promised champagne on the house at dinner and massages to work out the kinks from the punishing ride. I will pass on the massage, but I felt immediately at home when our tour of the resort took us to the dining room where a white, baby grand Yamaha was there to greet me. I will have to ask how they got the baby grand here in one piece.
The past couple of days has shown us that our Cybele Resort is more of a destination than a good jump-off location for Kruger National Park. Laura and Katy enjoyed the spa services. We had the dining room all to ourselves the first and only night we dined here, and the dinner and presentation were outstanding. When we told our waiter Kenneth that we had arrived from Savanna, he chuckled and said he knew our ranger Patrick and tracker Julius, who was a classmate in high school.
Laura was upgraded to the master Forest Suite. Katy remarked the bathroom was as big as her house in Portland, Oregon. The spacious bath and dressing area included a deep, soaking tub and fireplace. Our suite also has fireplaces, but we are here in late low summer season, and there was no need for a hearth. The suites look out over a wooded mountainside. The staff warned us about monkeys who will sneak in through open doors or windows and raid the mini bar.
Our first morning, we toured a nearby area called the Panorama. We visited Lisbon Falls, an impressive waterfall, and we ventured off to Bourke’s Luck Potholes, South Africa’s answer to Sutter’s Mill and our 1849 California Gold Rush. Bourke, in the late 1880s, fell into a series of falls here and survived, and in the process discovered gold. Edward, our trusty guide the past two days, said the local inhabitants, to this day, come to the Potholes in search of their own good fortune. The topography reminds us a lot of Red Rock Canyon Arizona.
Our luck after the Potholes wasn’t that good when we rode up to God’s Window. A heavy blanket of fog rolled in on the valley below as we approached the popular vantage point.
After visiting a silk making shop and a tasty lunch of crepes, referred to pancakes here, we returned to the resort for a brief rest and went back out at 4:30 for an evening animal drive at Kruger National Park. The wildlife reserve, the size of the country of Belgium, opened in 1926 after local tribes were forced off the land. Edward said the name of the town of Skuska, located inside the park’s southern region, means “to sweep clean” in tribal language. The name stuck, as reminder of the apartheid movement that has waned over the generations.
We enjoyed our two days being chauffeured by Edward, a 38-year-old private tour driver, including guided trips in Kruger. His full day of driving Miss Laura and travel companions was a 16-hour work day, by the time he took a bus to and from his home, to the office picking up our vehicle and guiding the morning and evening excursions .
Cybele, nestled in a green tropical mountain setting, is several miles of ungraded dirt road off the main highway that has been under construction for several years resulting in long delays, coming and going. Edward, who aspired to be a political writer and has strong opinion on the state of South Africa, attributed that never-ending traffic snarl to the corruption in government contracts, and he said, despite progress in race relations, “we must put it behind us.”
We empathized with this everyday man in the bush of South Africa who finds it hard to get ahead. We told him his sentiments echoed those in our country where political parties seem intent on their agenda, regardless of how it affects the average citizen. Had Edward lived in the U.S., I think his sincere work ethic would take him a lot further, in my opinion. We wished him well. He is living in a house he is still in the process of building, and it should be paid for and finished in two years.
Edward also was candid about the tourists he has guided. The Chinese are only interested in seeing the rhinoceros because of the sad myth that the rhinoceros horn is an aphrodisiac for improving the male sex drive. He talked extensively how rhino poachers are still prevalent. That morning, he pointed out park officials tracking a poacher. He even told the story of a park veterinarian who is on trial now for poaching the rhinoceros he is paid to care for but was discovered leaving Kruger with two rhino horns.
Edward prides himself a professional behind the wheel in Kruger. He faults the park policy of allowing ordinary tourists from all countries to drive rentals or their own vehicles in the sprawling game reserve.
“They don’t follow the rules and often get lost and have to be rescued,” he said. A few minutes later, from his driver- side mirror, he spotted some foolish tourists outside their vehicle trying to get pictures of a cape buffalo. “Sometimes I have seen these tourists, usually Chinese, also locking themselves out of their cars when they foolishly get out to take pictures.”
Edward took us on a morning drive, our second at Kruger, through another gate, where we saw quite an array of animals — lions, rhinoceros, cape buffalo, many elephant and giraffe, hippos and a young crocodile. The Kruger experience is different from the game drives at Savanna because you can’t go off-road and into the bush. We would recommend the Savanna experience to anyone touring South Africa with a goal of seeing the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, rhinoceros.) Locals and staff, inquiring about your day, will always ask if you have seen the Big Five.
Of course, Kruger National Park is so much larger than the private reserve that includes Savanna, and the animals have more room to roam. We were fortunate to see as many near the road. Edward exhibited a keen eye in finding wildlife, as did the Kruger guide we had the evening before on our combination drive and dinner in the bush. But the evening ride with Park Guide Chester was a disappointment in both animal sightings and with the dinner itself. The bush dinner is really designed for barbecue, and the four of us are vegetarians. Advance notice, we had hoped, would have resulted in a better experience. But the advertised sundowner cocktails and camp fire were not included. Chester stood guard with a rifle as we dined but the ambiance was not what we expected Dinner in the bush paled in comparison to the breakfast setting we had at Savanna, which was a complete surprise.
As we finished our last drive with Edward, the only sighting of importance left unchecked by Laura in all her safari experience was the wild dog.
Both our suites have their own heated pool.
Text By Augie Favazza
Photos by Teresa Favazza
Today was moving day, on to Cybele Forest Resort, about a 90 minute drive from Savanna Game Drive Resort. The resort located in the mountain rain forest had been a Colonial hunting lodge in the early 1900s and later a coffee bean plantation.
For good measure, we rose at 5 a.m. today and went on one last morning game drive with Patrick and Julius.
It was by far the nicest morning since we arrived in South Africa. Except for the one brief rain storm a few days ago during a drive, we have had excellent weather, although skies have been mostly partly cloudy. The warm sunshine today may have made the lions and leopards more active.
We followed a group into a tranquil river bed area, bordered with huge granite boulders. The guides have discovered that this a new favorite spot for two lionesses and four cubs that we had not seen before. The lioness and cubs we have tracked in previous days were also seen today, apparently rendezvousing with the other pride. We came across that mother leading her four cubs, who had a hard time keeping up with their short legs. This pride never quite made it to the river bed before we had to leave to give another group an opportunity to see this new pair of female adult lions and their 4 cubs. They were resting on the boulders and every once in a while, you could see one of the mothers get up on all fours and sniff the air for a scent of the other pride.
Another lioness with an adorable cub.
We felt lucky to have one last close encounter with new adorable lions cubs, and we have been pleased to see so many species with offspring in our of five days here. The day before we caught up to a small herd of elephants. One mother had three calves under her close watch. The youngest one, only a few months old, was hanging onto an older sibling’s tail with its trunk, like they were paraded into a circus ring, Heaven forbid.
This being Teresa’s and my first trip to Africa, it was interesting to see how the Sabi Sands game reserve protects these wonderful animals, but at the same time, provides them a wild habitat where the rangers, from all nearby safari lodges, will not step in to interfere with nature and predator kills. They would only kill an animal if it attacked a human because, as Julius said, “once the animal kills a human, it will do it again.”
On the way in for breakfast and to meet our transfer shuttle, we luckily came upon another 5-rated sighting of a leopard and its cub, not far from the lodge. We stopped 50 feet from a female leopard and cub lounging alongside the road. The cub got up and came right up to our land rover and then retreated to her mother. Teresa began taking pictures and video, and the mother leopard, the larger of the two we had seen before, led her baby in our direction, slowly past our vehicle.
We stopped for our morning customary cup of coffee and tea, this time in a large river basin where two distant elephants were making a crossing. The second elephant was splashing its way across the river. It was a fitting, majestic scene to close out our stay at
By noon we arrived at Cybelle, named for a Roman goddess of the forest. The names of many of the camps sharing the Sabi River preserve have Zulu names for the wildlife. For example, the Idube resort was named for the zebra.
POSTSCRIPT: At our final “sun-downer” at Savanna, Julius said he would share an experience he had with those three male lions that were frightened off by the mischievous bull elephant.
Julius and another ranger left the land rover to track these particular lions and were suddenly confronted by the beasts, which were out of sight behind a hill.
The two camp drive staffers attempted to retreat with backward steps, but the lions kept approaching. Julius said his cohort wanted to use his rifle in defense, but he talked him out of it because, “which one would he shoot? We would be killed before he got off a second shot. I told him to try and stay as calm as possible, and if it was God’s will that we would be killed by the lions, then so be it.”
They did their best to stand their ground and make themselves look as large as possible against animals three times their size. Mind you , this was all happening with their guests sitting in the land rover nearby.
The guide and tracker fortunately spotted a drainage ditch which they dove into, apparently confusing the lions and they eventually went away.
Julius had another suspenseful, but sad tale about a mother elephant that sought revenge after her offspring was shocked by an electric fence surrounding a resort under construction.
“I was helping in the construction and was on the roof. There was nothing I could do. The gate was unfortunately open, and the mother elephant charged into the resort courtyard. A very nice woman, one of the people in charge, tried to get the elephant out, but she and others were cornered. They tried to hide but the belligerent elephant, still hearing the cries of her baby, wanted revenge on someone. “
One man in the courtyard fainted and was eventually pulled to safety but the woman was too afraid to try and escape and continued to hide. The elephant located and seized her and then crushed the woman with its foot.
“The elephant had to be killed, ” Julius said. “The woman was very respected, and she had written in her diary that one say she would be killed by an elephant.”