South Africa Honeymoon

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South Africa Honeymoon from Michael Justin Films on Vimeo.

We woke up this morning at 6:30am and were out the door by 7:30. We expected traffic but got to JFK in twenty minutes. After being yelled at by a South African Airlines personell for taking their photo (for the record, I was not taking it of them, I was taking it of the sign they were standing near), we were on board and ready for our 14 hour flight to South Africa.

When we arrived at the ticket counter, Jackie and I sweet talked the lady into giving us an exit row -- and by sweet talked, I mean she offered it up b/c we said we were on our honeymoon and started asking her questions about her marriage. Regardless, it was the best thing we did b/c we had unbelievable leg room!

We watched a few movies, read some of our books, and took a sleeping pill that knocked out 5 of those 14 hours. The flight also came with complimentary alcoholic beverages and we made sure to take advantage. All in all, it was actually a pretty great flight.

After an extremely loooong wait in the passport line, we got our first stamps in our passports, or ass Jackie calls it, 'we popped our passport cherries!"

It is now 10:05am South African time -- which means it's 3:05am New York time. We just landed in Johannesburg and are now waiting for our shuttle plane to Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve for our safari! We were met by some lady who transported us to the airstrip where we were handed some cool luggage bag that Jackie has already claimed. I wasn't sure if we should tip her for her troubles, but after a 15 second pause where we both stared at each other, I figured she was expecting something...so I handed her a $5 dollar bill. I have no idea if that was a good tip or not, but chances are I will not see her again in my lifetime...so I think we're OK.

Where to begin? So much has happened in the last 24 hours that Jackie and I both agree, if we left today we could still say our honeymoon was better than we ever imagined.

What we experienced on Safari, was nothing short of spectacular. In fact, my words do not do it justice.

We arrived at the Exeter River Lodge where we were greeted, by name may I add, by Patricia, the Lodge's concierge and were handed homemade lemonade while we went over the details of our stay. We were introduced to our butler, Chris, who would be taking care of us the next couple of days. Whatever and whenever we wanted something, he would be at our every beck and call. It has been strange to have a butler but as we've learned, it's actually a privilege to be one in their culture, so that made us feel a bit better about the whole thing. Chris then brought us to a table that sat along the river's edge (hence the name of the place) where we were served a three course lunch. Everything that's made here is fresh with local ingredients -- it's absolutely to die for. Apparently we are not the only ones who agree…midway through our meal, a hungry monkey swooped down and stole a loaf of bread right out of the bread basket of another table! We found out that the staff don't like the monkeys b/c they do this often (later that meal they made their way into the homemade sorbet. We were left to settle for homemade ice cream instead). By the end of our meal we were stuffed to the gills but ready to see some game!

Having never been on a safari before, we weren't sure what to expect. Every game drive (we have two a day) has our ranger and a tracker. The ranger is there to drive us from place to place, answer any questions, and tell us all about the wildlife. The tracker sits on the front of the vehicle and looks out for signs of animals. What these guys are able to do is crazy. They see the smallest hint of wildlife and are able to tell when and where the animal was and went. Our tracker was Jack and our ranger, Mark. Just gonna put it out there…these two guys have balls. Big balls. Bigger than anyone I know. They're also extremely knowledgeable about tracking game and the bush so talking to them while we drove around was really cool.

The first thing we did was stop at this HUGE tree a few miles away from camp and had refreshments. We were paired with two other couples, Annie and Brett, newlyweds from San Francisco (ironically enough, Annie went to BC too!), and this couple from Poland or Switzerland -- they were nice but didn't speak English much. The guy was a GI doctor and he and his wife had been on hundreds of safaris before. All they seemed to do was take the best seats in the vehicle and constantly tell us to be quiet. As you can tell, they were not our favorites.

Within a few minutes of driving we came across a pride of lions (minus the male lion). Probably the coolest thing we've ever seen up to that moment in our lives (more on that later). Yes, we've both seen lions at the zoo but this is nothing like that. I really can't describe the feeling of being only feet away from these cats. Our hearts were in our throats, beating a million miles a second. We got some great photos and video and headed on to other parts of the bush.

Within a few more minutes we came across an old, humongous, elephant who was eating some plant. Not too far away from mr. elephant was a leopard. Mark was extremely excited about seeing the leopard b/c they are notorious for being hard to find. But we got really lucky as this male leopard had just caught a lizard of some kind and was going to town on it. We watched it devour the thing only a few feet away. Incredible! We also saw a rhino bathing in it's own feces (yum) and hundreds of impalas (similar to our deer).

After a few hours of driving, we pulled off to this sand dune where we had some cocktails and snacks. As the sun set and we slowly got our buzz on, we realized how amazing this vacation is going to be. As the last bit of sunlight left us, we hopped back into the vehicle and headed back to the lodge.

Only we didn't make it that far. A few minutes into the drive, we got wind that the family of lions that we first saw that day were on the hunt and were being very active. As Jack held the one and only spotlight, Mark weaved around the bush to find the pride.

At this moment in time, it's important for me to mention that Jackie was a little more than afraid. You're in the middle of nowhere, in pitch blackness, with ONE little light source, and you can hear the growls of the lion pride. And they sound close. Very close. And close they were. Jack turned the spotlight in one direction and standing there was this big male lion. He looked menacing with all his cuts and scars. Seconds after that he started to walk directly at me calmly. It was almost too calmly. As he walked only feet from the vehicle, the only thing I could think about was "this thing is going to attack me." He didn't and he joined the rest of the pride who were waiting for some of the food that they recently killed. What an incredible experience.

We got back to the lodge and were seated for dinner, another 3 course meal where we had the options of Ostrich or some kind of fish. Either way, it was a lose, lose for me. I chose the ostrich and had one bite of it. No thank you. Jackie enjoyed her meal and we went back to the room and passed out.

Day one in the books. Could it get any better?

Elephant by Michael PorcoPride of Lions - by Michael PorcoSleeping Lioness by Michael PorcoSneaky Monkey by Michael Porco 2011Setting out for our first game drive by Michael Porco 2011Lunch by the RiverLion Tracks by Michael Porco 2011Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve by Michael Porco 2011Sunset Cocktails by Michael Porco 2011Jackie hanging on the LandroverLeopard by Michael Porco 2011Filming Elephants by Jackie Porco

Apparently it does get better!

The Exeter River Lodge sits on the Sand River of the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve. Its proximity to the water is great for game viewing b/c the animals often pass by for a quick drink. The view alone was great, but add the possibility of seeing Lions or Elephants while eating and sitting on your deck and you'll see why we chose this lodge over many others in the area.

Every morning we woke with a 5am call, followed by light refreshments and then our morning game drive by 5:45am. Yesterday we saw 4 of the 5 "big 5" -- Leopard, Lion, Rhino, and Elephant. We needed to see some buffalo to complete the 5. Within a few minutes of our drive, we stumbled on a small herd of them. Beautiful creatures, we learned they are actually the most aggressive of the 'big 5' and have been known to charge vehicles if they aren't in the mood to be watched. Luckily we weren't charged. The only action we saw was one of them pissing for two minutes straight.

We moved on and got word that the Lion Pride we saw yesterday had met up with the males of the group so we headed towards them. The pride were situated on one side of where we were while a third male who was abandoned by his mother sat on another. Mark told us that this third male was trying to join the pride, however the other males had other thoughts on the subject. After a few minutes of basically nothing, trouble started brewing. Before we could even understand what was happening, a fight between two of the males erupted. It lasted all but 5 seconds but apparently it was enough to give the message -- you're not welcome. Wildlife is a crazy thing and after being here for just 2 days, we're already viewing it differently.

We saw some baby elephants, baby rhino, baby impala, and some kind of african eagle. Seems like every turn we take, we see some other amazing creature.

After lunch Jackie got a 90 minute massage out back on our deck, overlooking the river. She said it was the best massage she had ever received. Instead of having lunch where everyone else was having it, we opted for a private lunch on our deck. While we ate we had visitors -- the monkeys again -- and then saw a herd of elephants pass by. It was magical.

On our evening game drive, Mark got wind of a female leopard who was feasting on a carcass not too far from where we were. After we watched her devour the warthog, we followed her over to a gigantic impala she killed a day or so before. Never one to give up a meal, she began feasting. After she got through the first layer of skin, the smell was horrific -- two day old carcass that was baking in the African heat -- we've never smelt anything worse. It got so bad we had to leave the area [WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO BElOW!]

Not wanting to rush home to dinner, we decided to do an hour long bush walk with Mark and our couple friends from San Francisco. We learned about plants and other creatures that aren't a threat to us. We leisurely made our way back to camp and worked up an appetite.

When we got back to our rooms we had instructions to make hats and masks for the new years eve festivities happening later that night. It was a relaxed dinner with all three &Beyond lodges dining and celebrating together. They had real african dancers and singers who put on a great show. Although we were getting up at 5am for our next morning's drive, we stayed up with a small group of people and celebrated 2012 in the best possible way.

Sunrise in South Africa

Morning coffee overlooking the river

Finding some game

Buffalo Bull - the most dangerous to humans out of the 'big 5'

Buffalo Bull

Leopard spreading her scent

Lioness

Hyena

Eagle in flight

Baby Elephants!

Leopard eating her kill

Bush walk

Buffalo skull

Herd of Elephants stopped by our lunch date

Our monkey friend came back

African dancing

Day 3 was split between the River Lodge where we had been staying and Dulini Lodge, another &Beyond lodge about 20 minutes away. We woke up a bit hungover from our late night festivities and headed on our morning game drive. You may be wondering if it ever got old -- getting up at 5am, seeing the same animals, and then doing it again later in the day. While the drives may be similar in that we are seeing mostly the same creatures, since these animals are in their natural habitat and are free to roam wherever, you never know what you'll see or if you'll see anything. Mark told us that we were really lucky to have experienced what we did during our first safari, not everyone is as lucky.

We started out looking for zebra, since they were one of the only animals we had yet to see. We had to travel to the other side of the reserve b/c where we were doing our drives the past two days, we were coming up empty. We came across a herd a few miles away. we were surprised at how small they were - about the size of a pony. We were told locals tried to domesticate zebras, like horses, but their backs weren't as strong. Also interestingly enough, zebras have black and white stripes b/c lions are colorblind and this helps camouflage them better.

We continued our journey and found another leopard, this time sleeping in a tree about 30 feet from the ground. It was impressive to see how far the cat climbed to catch some sleep.

We then ran into some more giraffe and learned how plants have started to adapt to avoid being depleted of their leaves, which they need for photosynthesis and to survive. Apparently they release a chemical called tannon(?) that changes the color and taste of their leaves when they notice their leaves are missing. The animals don't like the new taste and so they move on to another tree. In addition, the chemicals released by the trees can travel downwind towards other trees, warning them about being eaten -- so they start the process before the animal reaches them!

One more day in the bush, and then it's time for the 2nd leg of our trip!

Sunrise in the bush

Zeebra!

Zebra

With Mark, our Ranger

Lost puppy

Giraffe legs

Giraffe

Our butler Chris

Another type of eagle

Elephants at a watering hole

Elephants at a watering hole

Leopard in a tree

How far the leopard climbed!

Another eagle

We were able to get really close to these animals

Leopard's spots

giving a scratch

Yum

Sunsetting in South Africa

Enjoying late afternoon cocktails in the bush

Our last full day of safari...and what a time it has been. We will never forget the people that we met and the animals that we encountered. The experience has been life changing and we wish all our friends and family can one day come and see this for themselves.

A few more pictures for you all before we head out on our day of travels to Knysna - rated one of the top 100 destinations in the world!

Early morning sunrise

Our favorite Lion cub

Impala

Dulini Lodge Bridge

Yawning Hippo

HDR of our Landrover

Getting out of our vehicle to take some photos

sunsetting in South Africa

Two adult male lions - we felt the most vulnerable when they walked by us

Private last night dinner on our back deck

We had a long travel day ahead of us so we opted to sleep in over going on our final game drive. We took three shuttle planes back to Johannesburg then a 2 hour flight to George where we picked up our rental car, and then drove an hour to Knysna. Remembering to stay on the left side of the road was no easy task.

We spent our time in Knysna enjoying some rest and relaxation. We slept in, had breakfast in our room over looking the lagoon, and attempted to ride elephants only to be disappointed when we didn't have reservations. Instead, we spent the day over at Plettenberg Bay that had gorgeous beaches. Although we didn't have our bathing suits, we walked along the shore and put our feet in the Indian Ocean. That night we found a little restaurant along the water that had live music--a married couple who were amazing! We even bought their album to jam to on our long ride to De Kelders, our next stop where we dove with Great White Sharks!

Villa Afrikana

Champagne overlooking the lagoon

Relaxing

Dinner in Kynsna at the waterfront

Jackie being a tourist

Never Loose Hope

Plettenberg Bay beaches

Plettenberg Bay

Awesome local performers!

We began our long drive day--five hours to the great white shark diving town, Da Kelders. We hugged the coast for an hour and then found ourselves driving through farmland! Flat and vast with no signs of life except for the random ostrich and cow farms. We were regretting the decision to not bring cell phones at this point - if we broke down or had trouble, we were screwed. We stopped at 3 different rest stops, attempting to find some sort of lunch but settled on Twix and potato chips as those were the only foods we recognized.

Per our GPS, we were getting close to our destination -- we made a few turns and then BAM, the ocean. It was magnificent and came out of nowhere! We found our new home for the night (The Round House, that was literally a round house) and went exploring. We came across this awesome stretch of rocks that sat on the water, a very cool photo opp. We got out of the car and took advantage.

The town had an eerie feel to it, almost deserted. We found a restaurant along the shore that seemed to be a local hangout and ate pizza while watching the sunset. One of those days that was crazy to think about where you were just that morning. We passed out after our long day of travel needing to be well rested for our 6 am wake up call to go swim with the sharks!

Heading to Da Kelders!

View from the Roundhouse Guesthouse in da Kelders

Exploring da Kelders

da Kelders is beautiful

Another beautiful day in South Africa - da Kelders

Sunsetting in da Kelders