The alarm went off way too early today and Giff and I slowly rolled out of bed. We got our things packed up including the 8 bottles of wine we bought in Stellenbosch. We were in the car by 5AM and on the way to the airport to catch our 7AM flight.
The flight was fairly quick but the layover in between was long. While we waited for our 1PM flight into the Madikwe Park reserve, Giff spent much of the time on the phone dealing with the travel agent Go2Africa (the worst travel agency we have dealt with over the past year). Finally it was time to check-in with our private charter airline, Federal Reserve Air!
The plane was teeny-tiny with a propeller…there were 2 pilots and 8 passengers including Giff and I. We fastened our seat belts and stared out our window as we felt the wind under the wings of the plane. The ride was a bit bumpy, it was like the wind was literally holding the plane up…a bit scary but fun. Giff and I were in the second row with a clear view of the pilots flying us! About an hour later, we saw the green “bush” below…miles and miles of trees and bushes in every direction. The plane started sharply turning towards a long dirt road in the middle of no where with nothing around except two safari jeeps waiting at the side. This was definitely our first time landing in a tiny plane on a random dirt road in the middle of Africa!
The landing was bumpy but we made it and our ranger walked over to the plane, grabbed our bags from underneath and introduced himself to us. One other couple got off the plane and into the other jeep, while the rest of the people stayed on the plane as it took off to another part of the reserve. Once in the jeep, the guide had us sign a waiver…we were now in the middle of a live reserve with many wild animals including lions and we needed to sign a waiver. This jeep was not a regular jeep by the way…this thing was bad-ass! It was all open-air…there were two seats below (where the driver sat), then each row from there was stadium seating so everyone could see easily. There were 3 rows behind the driver but only Giff and I in the car. We were going straight to the lodge to check-in which was about 20 minutes away, but we had only gotten about 5 minutes when the jeep stopped. There was a kudu (type of antelope) staring straight at us very close to the car chewing his food. We also saw a few Impala grazing before we arrived at our lodge Rhulani (www.rhulani.com) meaning RELAX in the local language.
As we pulled up to the lodge, the staff was waiting for us and as we got out of the car, took our luggage and handed us a welcome drink. They showed us around…it had a very open-air feel and was literally in the middle of the bush. We saw the main lobby, eating area, the pool, and then were shown to our room. As the ranger walked us down the long path to our bungalow, he stressed the importance of never walking around at night by ourselves. He would walk us to our room at night and if we needed to leave the room while it was dark out…to use the walkie-talkie on our nightstand and someone would come and escort us. Because the “big 5” are on the reserve (Rhino, Buffalo, Lion, Elephant and Leopard) as well as poisonous snakes amongst other species in the wild…it is always better to err on the side of caution!
Our room was very nice…it had stone floors, high ceilings and had a big patio with private plunge pool. The bed was surrounded by a huge mosquito net. We freshened up and then walked back to the lobby to have a late lunch before our very first evening safari drive. Lunch was chopped seasoned chicken with goat cheese stuffed inside crispy Phylo dough, served warm with a side salad. As we were eating, a group of zebra walked up to the “watering hole” which was a small pond for a drink of water. We dropped our forks and walked over to stare…wild zebras…so cool!