It’s been just about a month since I returned from Africa. I haven’t been up-to-date on my posts for a combination of reasons: one, it took me a while to digest and to reflect on my experience and two, I’ve been non-stop traveling since I got back from Africa while working a full time job. I’m finally home in New York and it feels so good to go through all the photos from my trip to Africa and relive those magical moments. First up is my first African safari.
As a New Yorker, the only wildlife you see on a daily basis are pizza rats and obese pigeons. So, imagine my surprise when I saw giraffes and elephants roaming freely. It’s a hard feeling to describe unless you’ve experienced it yourself. The people who I know who have been on a safari say that it was a mind-blowing and life altering experience. It’s not lost on me that the trip I took to Africa is considered someone’s ultimate travel bucket list destination and where many couples go on their honeymoon. My sister and I tacked on a safari to our trip since we were already heading to Capetown to visit our cousin, who was living there at the time.
Since I was going on the safari with my sister, I didn’t want a romantic safari experience (sorry sis). We couldn’t afford a luxury safari anyway. We wanted to meet people and have a more “backpacker” experience for lack of a better phrase. I did an extensive research looking for an eco lodge/backpacker-type/glamping place to stay. I found the perfect spot when I stumbled upon nThambo. For 3 nights, it was just under $600 per person including the room, transportation and all meals. nThambo offered the exact experience we wanted for the best rate. If you go to nThambo knowing what you’re getting yourself into e.g. no AC, open bathroom and sleeping plan, no real roof, then you’ll love it. It was the perfect spot to meet other travelers because you go on two game drives together (morning and afternoon), you eat all your meals together at one table, and the wifi only works in the main lodge.
We flew South African Airways on a direct flight from JFK to Johannesburg that took 14 hours. We hopped on a smaller plane from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, a small airport 30 minutes from our camp. If you have the time, you can drive from Joburg to the camp which is about 6 hours but we didn’t have that kind of time. After 24 hours of travel, we were so excited to meet Matt, our safari guide outfitted in safari gear and cracking jokes in his South African accent. Five minutes into our drive in our safari jeep, we saw zebras and giraffes. My sister Sarah and I glanced at each other knowing that this was going to be one hell of an adventure.
Being at the camp felt like well, camp for adults. The day pans out like this: Woken up at 5:00am by either Matt or John John. 5:15am have coffee in the main lodge area 5:30am leave for the morning’s game drive. Have a coffee break around 7:00am, head back to the lodge by 8:30am have breakfast by 9:00am. Free time until lunch which is served at 2:00pm. The afternoon game drive is at 4:30pm. Sunset cocktails at 6:00pm and head back to the lodge at 7:30pm dinner was usually between 8:00pm and 8:30pm. Sleep and repeat.
nThambo is located in the Klaserie Game Reserve and the area has experienced the worst draught in 40 years. The watering holes were dried out and most of the animals moved South in search of water. This was disappointing of course because it was harder to spot the animals. However, I have never been on a safari before and I just felt grateful to have been able to be there so any animal sighting even impalas (like their deer) was exciting. Most of the people you meet on a safari talk about the big 5 and I honestly didn’t know what they were before someone told me. It’s sort of an animal check list that everyone wants to tick off. When I googled what it meant to be a big 5 African animal it says, “was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot” (Source: Wikipedia). I’m not a hunter and I’m not into guns so seeing a giraffe was just as cool.
We were there for 3 days and every game drive (6 in total), we saw different things. The whole experience felt very Jurassic Park to me. Sitting in the jeeps in the wild with wild animals. I told my sister that I could be driven everyday to watch animals. I was that child that watched hours of National Geographic; I’m an animal lover. After my first African safari experience, I’m definitely hooked. What I loved the most about my first safari experience was meeting cool people like Nadia who was the Jane of all trades at the camp. We spent hours talking during the times in between drives and meals about South African musicians, South African life and culture. The best though was hearing her experience as a South African and how she ended up at nThambo. Nadia, Matt and John John were the most gracious and patient staff I’ve ever met. They definitely skewed my perception of South Africans as really chill people who are up for anything. They made our safari experience so cozy and fun. I also celebrated my birthday there which I will never forget because they made it so special.