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Pearl's musings

Big Cats, Little Kitties: African Style November 25, 2014


Cheetah, Idube


Baby animals

Leopard in a tree with a  kill

African Painted Dogs

Cheetah, Idube

Cheetah, Idube

That was my safari wishlist.

When I was in South Africa 2 years ago, there weren’t any cheetahs in the Sabi Sands area, but this time…we saw cheetahs several times!  Lucky us!

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

These remarkable cats are fast, lean and breathtakingly beautiful.  Their facial markings are mesmerizing.  And to see them casually stroll down a trail, well you can only imagine how they would look sprinting after prey.  We were fortunate enough to witness a cheetah stalking a steenbok at dusk.  Depending on which team you were rooting for it was either a disappointment or a win!  The steenbok survived!

We saw 2 sets of “kitties”!  We found some adorable lion cubs in Mala Mala where we stayed for our first day on safari!  Check out the cub sleeping with his foot on his mom’s head!

Lion cub, Mala Mala

Lion cub, Mala Mala

The remainder of our safari was spent at wonderful Idube.  As you may recall, this is the camp we enjoyed on my first African trip.  It was the perfect spot, so naturally we returned here for trip 2!  As expected, Idube delivered another epic safari experience!

Leopard cubs, Idube

Leopard cubs, Idube

Rob the Ranger and Ronald the Tracker and their uncanny sixth sense about the animals and the land provided one amazing sighting after another…with so much interesting information and background.  And this is how we came to find these darling leopard cubs!  You can see they are very well camouflaged.  I don’t have my video loaded up yet, but their behavior was 100%  “domestic kitten”!  Tasha (certifiable cat lady) was entranced!  Even I (certifiable dog lady) was charmed!

Thanks to Rob and Ronald’s brilliance we encountered a pride of 6 lionesses, meandering through the bush.  Rob pulled up at a random trail head and the next thing we knew, a parade of these beautiful cats walked up to our jeep, and continued on their way, as they circumnavigated our vehicle.  Without a doubt, it was one of the most thrilling and authentic moments of my life.

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Cue “Circle of Life” song from The Lion King for the next bit…

We came across a small pride of lionesses enjoying a late night snack.  As we approached the site, the unmistakable scent of freshly killed impala pervaded the air–there really isn’t a comparable smell.  I’m not sure if there was a feeding frenzy before we arrived, but the group now seemed to be sharing the meal amicably…each getting their fill.  I didn’t take any photos of this because a) it was too dark to get a decent pic and b) it seemed so graphic.  You’ll just have to use your imagination…or not!


Leopard, Idube

Our last night at Idube, Ronald spotted a hyena during our sundowners (sunset drinks).  Suddenly the hyena took off and the next thing we knew we hurriedly packed up our refreshments and ventured in the vehicle.  A leopard had made a kill and was storing it in a tree.  Leopards are the only cats that haul their food into trees for safe keeping.  Other creatures who might steal the leopard’s prey cannot climb trees–so it’s a good strategy.  Anyhoo, we arrived at the tree.  And who should be circling the trunk but the hyena we saw at drinks!  Evidently news travels fast in the wild world of the safari!  It should be pointed out that while it is a violent and “dog eat dog” world in the bush, there is no waste.  Killing is not for sport–it is for survival.  As the leopard ate the impala, the hyena waited below for any scraps that might fall.  Eventually, the remains would fall from the tree where hyenas and vultures would finish it up.  Thus the Circle of Life continues…

And so, I was able to scratch most of the items off my wish list!  Still waiting to see the elusive African Painted Dogs!

Next up:  more animals!



The “Also Ran” Animals of the Safari, Africa Part 3 November 7, 2012

There is no disputing the magnitude of the “Big Five” of the safari (as seen on my previous blog post: The Big Five: Africa Part 2), however, there are MANY other impressive animals to be seen in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa.  I want to give equal air time to these creatures as well…so I give you the also rans of the safari.

I really wanted to see giraffes.  Like elephants, these huge creatures appear and disappear astonishingly well.  You’d think that it would be difficult to miss seeing a giraffe, but their coloring and thin neck allow them to blend into tree lines very successfully.  We saw giraffes on several occasions.

Water bucks, kudu, impala and nyala abounded…and we saw one steenbok.  Very sweet…

And zebra!

One of my favorite animals was the blue wildebeest or brindled gnu.  This particular fellow was a single, waiting for some ladies to join him.  He roamed around his territory with high hopes, but alas, we didn’t get a chance to witness his success.  Rob explained that wildebeest are swift, but not especially smart.  I enjoyed watching him show off!

We also saw hippos…hippos spend most daylight hours in water.  Their skin needs to be moist.  They venture onto land at night to eat.  We saw one hippo on land, at night, thanks to Ronald’s spotlight.  Hippos are responsible for more human deaths than any other large animal in Africa (take THAT Big Five!) per  They are territorial and have big teeth!  Rob explained that these deaths are usually due to people not understanding hippos and their environment.  We observed a hippo near Idube.  Rob predicted the hippo’s early warning system.  First, he made lots of noise.  Next he showed us his [big] teeth and lastly he flicked poop with his tail.  Rob’s assessment:  the hippo has already assaulted 3 of your senses…get away, fast!

Warthogs roamed freely around the lodge.  They were adorable with their tails held high!

We saw a leopard tortoise on a grassy airstrip.  And a marvelous bird called:  lilac-breasted roller.  This bird was truly breathtaking.  When it flies, the turquoise colors are exposed on their wings.  So beautiful!

We saw a few baboons on the trails and some monkeys at the lodge–they liked to “clean up” after lunch!

Still on my animal list:  Hyenas (we saw one at night in the distance) and African painted dogs…

And finally, as promised, here is some footage of the cavorting elephants as well as some highlights that Ronald the Tracker captured from our safari…click here.

Next up:  the creepy crawlers of the safari!


The Big Five: Africa Part 2 October 27, 2012

The Big Five–the holy grail of safari!  Historically, this referred to the most difficult animals to hunt on foot, as well as the danger factor, rather than size.  Today, it’s a check list for many tourists that want to see the “stars of the safari”.  During our 5-day sojourn at Idube, Barb and I saw “The Big Five” and more!  Rob the Ranger and Ronald the Tracker, provided ample opportunities to observe these magnificent animals up close, in their natural setting and completely safe for human and beast alike.

So…here’s Number One!

We saw many elephants around the Sabi Sand region.  Surprisingly, they walk  very quietly.  Despite their massive size, they can disappear into a thicket in a heartbeat, or conversely, reveal themselves seemingly out of thin air!  We observed a lovely herd on our first drive, in the pouring rain.  This group included a baby–Rob estimated that she was around 6 weeks old.  If you look closely, you can see that her feet are still pink!  Adorable!

We also came across a posse of 4 adolescent males playing in the dam near Idube.  They goofed around for 2 hours+!  It was interesting to observe their interactions and to hear their trumpets (it’s loud!).  (Video of this is being prepped as we speak and I’ll share it in a future post.)  At one point, a 5th male sidled up to join in the fun, but the original four shunned him.  Poor guy, tried hard to fit in, but ended up sulking away.

Since we had the luxury of 5 days, we never felt rushed during any of our animal “interactions”.  Rob seems to have a knack of knowing just how long to linger at a site–allowing guests to watch, photograph, or just be zen with the surroundings.  If you can swing it, I definitely recommend a 4-5 day safari if at all possible.

Number Two

Leopards!  These are my favorites of the Big Five.  Their eyes are a spectacular greenish color–and so very intense!  This picture (left)  was taken on day 2 of our safari.  The leopard nonchalantly strolled by our jeep.  I could have reached out and petted her tail as she passed by–but Rob made it very clear early on:  NO LIMBS OUTSIDE THE VEHICLE.

We also had several opportunities to see leopards at night.  One was venturing into a rival’s territory.  He walked the perimeter, marking and growling to announce his presence.  Another evening, we saw a baby leopard in a tree, waiting for his mom to return.  And our last morning drive, we came across this beauty (right), seeming to pose for us!  Breathtaking!

Already on my list for the next safari:  See a leopard haul its kill into a tree.  Since lions and hyenas aren’t successful tree climbers, leopards are known to drag their meal into a tree for safe keeping.

Number Three:  Rino’z!

Unfortunately, there are too many idiots out there who think that poaching these magnificent animals is a good idea.  So, I have intentionally misspelled the word so as to prevent said idiots from searching on the internet to locate these creatures.  We were lucky enough to see rinoz several times on our trip.  On a particularly memorable encounter, a male was checking out a female.  I guess he felt we were threatening his chances with her and so decided to intimidate us!  Rob predicted this behavior and  as the male was taking a run at us(!), Rob (the Rockstar Ranger) calmly stood up and in his best “dad voice” said “Don’t Charge!”…thankfully the charge halted and Mr. Rinoe made a sharp right turn before reaching our jeep!  Thrilling!!  I asked Rob later if he had a Plan B (just in case the male hadn’t followed instructions)…Rob said, “Reverse…FAST!”

Number Four:  Lion!  

Our fearless leaders–Rob and Ronald were marvelous trackers.  Check them out in action, inspecting a trail for signs of recent animal activity.  Success!  A lion foot print!

We were treated to several amazing lion/lioness experiences.  We observed a pride of lionesses stalking an impala on our first drive.  They worked as a team and it was truly incredible to watch them in action.  As it turns out, the impala got lucky that day, but it was impressive nonetheless.  Evidently lions don’t need to eat that frequently.  A solid meal will do them for at least a week.  As a result, we didn’t see male lions doing anything but sleeping and digesting!  If you’re interested in seeing real life lion v. buffalo  click here to see a video captured by Ronald (FYI, it’s a little gory).

As you can see, life in the bush can be violent.

Here you can see evidence of a recent tussle.

Rob explained that this lion and his brother had a shake down recently.  While they both survived, this guy is sporting a nice scratch.

Number Five:


I’m certain there are those that really find buffalos enchanting…I am not one of those.  So, while it was really interesting to see them and to “complete the list”, I didn’t really resonate with them.  That being said, there can be no denying that those horns are impressive!  And I wouldn’t want to make them angry–a herd of worked up buffalo would be frightening!

Check out the beautiful yellow-billed oxpeckers, enjoying some tasty bugs on the baby buffalo’s back!

So that’s a wrap of the Big Five.  Which one did you like best?

Next up:  more beautiful animals that didn’t make the top 5 cut!


Safari: Trip of a lifetime, Africa Part 1 October 23, 2012

SCRATCH!  That’s the sound of a biggie being scratched off my bucket list.

Safari!  Africa!  Destination I’ve only dreamed about…until last week!

A trip this epic requires several blog postings, so be prepared to be amazed for the next couple of updates!

My sister Barb (see Santa Cruz Island post) and I travelled to South Africa recently.  It’s a long haul to get to Johannesburg from North America.  For me, it was a 29 hour ordeal, including a 7 hour layover in Heathrow.  I arrived at JNB, red-eyed (having taken 2 overnight flights on the journey) and exhausted.  After the disappointing setback of discovering my luggage was still in London(!), I met my Hyatt Shuttle driver and was quickly in the hotel enjoying lunch with Barb.  A quick shopping trip to Woolworth’s for some essentials, and we were off to meet Greg–a high school friend, who happened to be in Joburg on business–for dinner at the Butcher’s Shop & Grill in Nelson Mandela Square.  A tasty meal and lively conversation ensued–catching up with each other  since we last met:  high school graduation!!

Sidebar: Thankfully I had packed my malaria meds and other essentials in my carry-on luggage AND I purchased travel insurance.  Both these precautions paid off during this trip, since my suitcase was MIA for 4 days!  Also, if you are planning to fly into Johannesburg, I recommend pre-arranging a shuttle pick up, rather than trying to arrange transport on the fly.

Back to Adventure:  The next morning, Barb and I flew to the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.  This region borders on the famous Kruger National Park.  Fences between Kruger and the private game reserves have been removed, so animals can move freely around a vast area.  Nice!

We were met at the tiny airfield by Rob the Ranger.  Unfortunately, it was pouring rain (55mm total accumulation)cue the TOTO  Africa song.  Thanks to the jeep’s awning, we arrived at Idube Game Reserve in pretty good shape.

Sidebar: Selecting a safari can be overwhelming.  I started my search by googling 5-day safaris in Kruger.  My requirements were: safe, comfortable, affordable; meals and game drives included.  I checked each possibility on TripAdvisor for reviews.  Barb and I eventually settled on Idube Game Reserve through Africa Dynamics’ Sandra Collier.  Sandra is based in Washington State, so we were able to communicate on the phone easily.  She answered every question and made booking our trip so easy.  Her colleague in Canada met with Barb, as well.

Additionally, I was able to save thousands of dollars on my flights, thanks to YAPTA.  This website tracks flights that you select.  When/if the price goes down, they send you an alert email.  My airfare went from $4000+ to $1600, round trip.  So, it’s definitely worth looking into!

Return to adventure:  Idube offers 2 game drives daily (early morning and late afternoon/evening) as well as an optional safari walk.  Rob was our fearless leader for these outings.  I didn’t know what to expect in terms of animal viewing, safety, comfort, etc., but Rob has set the bar hopelessly high for future safaris.  This man knows flora, fauna, stars and more.  Rob has an uncanny ability to predict what an animal will do, and as a result, each guest is completely safe even while in the presence of “dangerous” animals.  He has such an affinity with his surroundings–I actually observed him carefully drive around a dung beetle on the road!  Every question we had, regardless of how many times he must have heard it before, was answered promptly, thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Ronald, the keen-eyed tracker, worked in tandem with Rob.  Sitting out front of the jeep, his sharp eyes picked out tracks on the trail, or animals in the distant bush.  He astonishingly spotted a tiny chameleon on a bush as we drove by it at night! Ronald prepared the jeep prior to each drive–including cozy blankets for the cool nights and rain ponchos for the damp excursions.

Every drive included a refreshment break.  Think safaris are “roughing it”?  Think again!  Part way through the morning, Rob and Ronald selected a picturesque setting, hauled out a table with a table-cloth(!), hot drinks and fresh-baked muffins for our nourishment.  In the evening, our repast usually took place in a wide open space that showcased the planetarium-like night sky.  Very civilized, indeed.

I cannot miss the opportunity to rave about the food at Idube!  Chris, the chef, is impressive.  Her culinary creations were so tasty and beautiful.  Fresh baked bread and croissants; tantalizing entrees and the desserts must be seen to be believed.

The wait staff:  Auphrey, Constence and Mavis were lovely and attentive.  Patrick was our safety escort.  Since Idube is a small lodge that allows all creatures to roam freely (except elephants), guests are escorted to and from their rooms at night.  That extra layer of security was comforting…especially given some of the interesting noises we heard through the night!

Finally, Andrew and Lauren! Idube’s team leaders.  This dynamic couple sets the tone for the lodge.  They are bright, enthusiastic, professional, genuine, caring, positive, funny–you get the picture!  Lauren singlehandedly wrangled my lost luggage from Heathrow to Zebrawood chalet.  I was so delighted to be reunited with my bag (cue Peaches and Herb:  Reunited song) I burst into tears!  Thank you Lauren!!

So, that’s the background and personnel for our adventure…next up?  The Big Five!  Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come…

Finally, completely unrelated…recently I have been asked for my coffee steak rub recipe.  With pleasure, here it is:

Mix 1/2C coarse ground coffee beans, dark roast (I usually use decaf for the lightweights in the group) + 1/4C kosher salt + 1/8C coarse ground black pepper + 1/4C brown sugar.  Rub onto steaks, both sides.  Allow to melange for at least an hour.  Barbecue.  Steak should rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

Incidentally, this recipe makes enough for several meals–I store it in a sealed container in the fridge for easy access.  Bon appetit!