I have been explaining my trip to South Africa feeling as if I stepped into an edition of National Geographic! I could go on and on about the trip and everything I loved. Here's my top 6 (I couldn't limit it to 5...I tried) moments in no particular order:
1. Wildlife is always a highlight for me so it's no surprise that Boulder Beach, where a colony of African penguins reside, ranked highly! I watched the Netflix documentary "Penguin Town" years ago with my family and we all felt a strong connection to the penguin's personalities and struggles that the film crew wonderfully portrayed. To be there in person, observing these amazing creatures in their natural habitat is remarkable, aside from the dozens of other tourists wanting to catch a glimpse and selfie with the well-dressed birds. I could have watched them all day.
2. I always include hiking in the itineraries if possible. To have the base of an amazing mountain, Table Mountain, just a 15 minute drive away from our hotel was magical! I always love challenging my body to climb these amazing landscapes. I find it liberating to be out in the wilderness where we pack anything we think we may need for the duration of the hike. I appreciate the friendly greetings of fellow hikers passing by and the intimate conversations that occur when we are solo in nature without cell service or entertainment. I am reminded how small we are when we arrive at the summit and can view the amazing peninsula where we had just driven the day before. Not to mention the change in climate where it's hot and sweaty at the beginning where we are grinding and pushing and then the cold wind that comes with higher altitudes. It's all part of the adventure and I loved every minute of it.
3. After two domestic flights from Cape Town into the bush on Klaserie Private Nature Reserve we land at our lodge, do some yoga, eat lunch, and load up into our safari trucks for our first game drive. Just 20 minutes in, our guide asked what everyone hopes to see during our time here. I replied, a leopard! Five minutes later we pull up to witness a leopard in a high tree with its kill, an impala. The scraps from the leopard's meal are falling down to the ground where two massively large and beautiful spotted hyenas are patiently waiting for the leftovers. One of them scored a back leg and ran away with it! *Fun Fact - leopards haul their meals up into the high trees for days to protect it from getting stolen by other predators...aka...they like eating in peace and taking their time. Plus, they are solitary creatures so they don't have the protection of the pride to fight off meal stealers like lions do.
4. We had just finished our early morning pitstop in the bush with our freshly pressed hot coffee and muffins and of course a mini photo sesh, when we reloaded back into the vehicle to see what we could locate that morning when Lisa yelled, "Did you see that owl?" Our guide, Johan, said "where?" and we reverse back a few yards to in fact view this amazing spotted owl just a few feet off the path, sitting on a branch, looking right back at us. Johan decided to attempt an owl calling and got this beautiful majestic creature to talk back and forth with him a few times. We were all in awe! Johan has lived in this area for years so basically you could say, he has seen it all, but he even confessed in his exact words, "that was one of my top 5 sightings so far!"
5. We were patiently waiting outside the wild dog den hoping to get a glimpse at the new puppy pack. We were joined by the two adult dogs, who were keeping watch before they headed out to hunt, as though they were domesticated animals we are used to at home just hanging out on their front porch. We were whispering amongst ourselves in hopes that our voices weren't deterring the pups from gracing us with their playful presence when my stomach gurgled and our guides who were two rows below me, turned back and asked, "was that your stomach, Amanda?" I somewhat embarrassed had to confess, "yes." We had a laugh and tried to keep it to a mellow murmured giggle as we turned back to wait for the pups. A few minutes later, here it goes again, grrrrrruuuhhhh. This time again, no hiding and no excuses, the adult wild dog even turned his head and his ears perked up in curiosity looking our way. It was too much! We all lost our composure and had a great deep belly laughter uproar! I can happily report, my intestinal commotion didn't deter the pups and they came out to play around shortly after. It was perfection!
6. It was our last game drive of the trip and we saw four lions lying in the grass the night before. We had heard there was a male and female nearby so we were off to try to catch them before we had to board our flight! We arrived and there they were, just walking toward our vehicle with such a calm, confident stride as though they knew they were the king of the jungle. The male lion walked very closely towards us and for a split second, which in my mind felt like a solid 2 extraordinary minutes, he locked eyes with me and spoke to my soul. It felt so spiritual to feel this majestic creature notice and interact with me on such an intimate level. I'll never forget that moment!
Needless to say, South Africa has stolen a piece of my heart and I will be going back soon! I hope everyone makes it a priority to travel to this amazing country to witness these incredible creatures in their pure natural essence. It absolutely deserves being on your bucket list!