Archive: Travel Diaries: South Africa

Travel Diaries: South Africa
Filed under: Travelogue — admin at 12:30 pm on Thursday, May 8, 2008

Manila- Singapore- Johannesburg- Mala Mala
April 26-29, 2008

If you visit South Africa for the first time, you’ll end up using so many superlatives to describe your experience. To name a few—magical, breathtaking, awesome, pure, exciting, unforgettable. And given that I still am reeling from my wonderful experience, the word “ineffable” also came i nto mind.

Last year, I was asked by Dr. Vicki Belo to join her South Africa trip. It has been a trip I have been looking forward to doing, since I’ve never been to that part of the world. But unfortunately then, our schedules never seemed to meet. She asked me again early this year, and finally, looked at April as our target month. Since I had a commitment the day they were scheduled to leave, she went ahead with Dr. Hayden and another colleague, Mo Twister. I was to follow two days later with my daughter, Zia.

Zia and I took Singapore Airlines on a Saturday evening, April 26. The flight to Singapore was only three hours long, but the layover took five hours. But it was a very comfortable five-hour wait since the Raffles Business Class lounge was comfortably stacked with so much food and drinks, newspapers and magazines, and, best of all, free wi-fi.

The flight to Johannesburg took another ten hours. The cradle seats of Singapore Airlines were amazingly comfortable, so we slept the whole trip. The food and service were also excellent!

But Johannesburg wasn’t our last stop. We had to take a local connecting flight to Krueger Airport, then a short ride to Rattray’s Mala Mala Game Reserve.

Our flight to Mala Mala was delayed for an hour. We were already onboard the plane when the pilot told us that we needed to board another aircraft “in the interest of aviation safety.” All passengers were only too eager to move to another small aircraft.

Mala Mala is an hour away from Johannesburg (or Joburg, as some people fondly call it). The entire area measures 13, 200 hectares or 33, 000 acres. It is sandwiched in between the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and the world famous Krueger National Park. It is a premiere safari destination in South Africa and the world. Take a peek at what it’s like by visiting

On our way there, I was feeling so lucky to be spending time there!

As soon as we arrived, we had to freshen up for only an hour and get ready for our first safari. Dr. Vicki’s party had been at the reserve the day before. And prior to that, they stayed in Cape Town for two days. She told me that vehicle safaris have two schedules daily—one at 6:15 a.m., and another that starts after teatime, which is around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. Each safari would take three hours. I wanted to ask if there are evening safaris, I mean, I wouldn’t dare go—I was just being curious. I guess no one in our party would suggest it either. The latest we were out there was at 7:00 p.m.

But of course you’ve heard that South Africa has extremely beautiful sunsets. As my pictures would attest, sunrise and sunsets at Mala Mala were indeed, amazingly beautiful!

The weather was extremely cold in the mornings and late afternoons, and that caught me by surprise. But I am not one to travel light so I came prepared with sweaters and jackets. I dressed myself up in layers. During safaris, the jeeps are equipped with blankets and hot-water bottles, so there is no excuse not to be out there if you’re feeling cold.

Our ranger conducted a short briefing. Meal times were scheduled as follows: snacks at 6:00 a.m. before morning safari, 9:30 a.m. breakfast, lunch at 1:30 p.m., and dinner at 8:30 p.m. We’re all non-alcoholic drinkers in the group so we’d normally skip social drinks before dinner.

Dinners were the most fun because we’d sit by the fire and exchange stories with other guests, and then the local staff would entertain us by rendering indigenous songs. It was such a treat!

We were told that room service was available but there was no menu in the khaya so I opted not to skip a meal. Don’t you hate that feeling of jetlag and waking up in the middle of the night famished? Add the fact that I’m a constant snacker, so I wouldn’t want to experience that. By the way, South Africa is only six hours behind Manila time.

South Africa was everything I had hoped it to be…and more! The camp, Rattray’s, had eight luxury Khayas (bungalows) with separate his and hers bathroom, heated plunge pool, outdoor shower, satellite TV, gym, infinity pool, internet connection. It also had a library, abundant food during buffet meals, and deluxe service. My perfectly spoiled idea of er- camping!

I know that five-star quality is not really what one would expect when he/she goes to a reserve, but that’s how things are at Rattray’s. Each guest is greeted by a very relaxed and is treated with personal service. In other words, service is so personalized that everyone knows everyone and everything that goes on in the camp, including rumors. Well, I’ve nothing juicy for you guys right now, but I have another story to tell after our stay at Mala Mala.

Rattray’s had highly qualified rangers and trackers from the Shaman tribe that lead the 4×4 safari. Our designated ranger was a 21-year-old local named Leon and our tracker’s name is Marka.

The local’s language Afrikaans sounded a bit like German to my ears but I was told that it was derived from the form of Dutch. Sometimes, I would have a hard time catching what they were saying in English because of the thick accent, and had to turn to my daughter, Zia, if she caught on what was being said. I had to be extra attentive, because truthfully, out there in the wild, I didn’t want to miss out on important instructions. I mean I didn’t want to attract any of the animal’s attention. My imagination would sometimes get the better of me—every now and then. I actually had this usual case of paranoia, imagining some wild animal would snatch someone in our group. By God’s grace, nothing of the sort happened.

The whole idea of seeing the animals in their natural habitat was much too exciting! Even at times when all we’d do was sit quietly in the range rover and just observe. It was important to simply respect how the animals behaved. And naturally, we took lots of photos.

The reserve guarantees that during your first day at the safari, you’ll be able to see The Big Five—Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion, and Leopard. We received certificates upon check out. That was a cute touch. I’ll have mine framed.

We also saw different species of birds. Truthfully, I am not a bird aficionado so I could only remember a few of their names. The vultures were mean-looking and downright ugly. So far, that’s the only bird name I could remember.

Hyenas were surprisingly bigger than I imagined them to be. The zebras graced beautifully on low-grass fields along with the wildebeest and warthogs. The reserve had lots of other animals like the buffalo, kudu, nyala, impala, and monkeys.

I didn’t spend much time in our verandah because monkeys would casually spend time there. I heard they bite so I didn’t want to take chances.

One of the most graceful animals I saw, grazing at the reserve, were the giraffes. But I found them a bit elusive. I’ve only seen them in zoos and had no idea they could run so fast. They didn’t seem to like the 4×4 getting near them.

The hippopotamuses were submerged in the water and I was only able to get a glimpse of them wiggling their ears. There was a lone crocodile which looked like a piece of land to me. Which brings to mind—if I walked alone in the reserve, I’d probably be a goner in 60 seconds. The animals camouflage so well!

One of my favorite animals at the reserve would have to be the Rhinoceros. They were massive and looked like elephants from afar.

It was such a shame we couldn’t go as near as we could the lions. It was unbelievable how our jeep could be just six-feet away a whole pride! The pride we saw had three females and eight cubs. We also couldn’t go , we just watched them from a safe distance.

My group’s favorite safari moment would have to be seeing a leopard cub up in a tree. It was frightened and waited for it’s Mum to give her the signal to come down. It was something beautiful to witness and according to our ranger, a very unique moment.

We were told later on by the first group who were there that a pack of hyenas came and the mother leopard had to make her cub climb the tree. The mum ran so the hyenas would chase her and spare her cub. She eventually returned to her cub when she deemed it safe.

I did not witness a “kill” but I did see three female lions going after a buffalo. To my knowledge, the buffalo got away. I’m not sure if witnessing a “kill” was something I would want to experience, and I know for sure it’s not something I would enjoy seeing. Whenever I watch the Animal Channel or National Geographic, I turn the channel each time I see a poor animal being devoured by another. But such is the way of life in the jungle.

Zia and I were able to experience a total of four safari trips during our short stay at the reserve.

I know, two nights didn’t seem enough…but our group had to move to Johannesburg for another adventure: The Great White Experience. And that, my dear friends, is what my next journal will be all about.


We had the best time and I have to acknowledge that the trip with my daughter is a gracious gift from Dr. Vicki and Dr. Hayden. My deepest and sincerest thanks goes to the couple.